The OF Blog: Marco Magini, Come fossi solo (As I was Alone)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Marco Magini, Come fossi solo (As I was Alone)

Vorrei non dovermi ancora una volta svegliare in mia compagnia.

Mi alzo e mi faccio la barba.

Sono passate le undici e anche stamani non ho salutato i bambini prima che andassero all'asilo.  Mi gira la testa, avanzo incerto verso il bagno che ha un odore chimico di lavanda.


Ha affogato nel deodorante l'odore di vomito di ieri sera.  Potesse, darebbe una spruzzatina anche sul resto della nostra vita.  Più la vedo e più mi fa schifo.  Le canzoncine della buonanotte cantate ai bambini, il sup aggiungere caro, tesoro, alla fine di ogni frase, fanno sembrare tutto ancora più sfacciatamente patetico.

Mi gira la testa.  Mi siedo sulla tazza per pisciare in modo da non perdere di nuovo l'equilibrio.  Lo spazzolino, il dopobarba, la crema per il viso:  ogni singolo oggetto si trova esattamente dove si è sempre trovato e dove sempre si troverà.  Mi tiro su:  è solo l'immagine riflessa nello specchio a essere fuori posto in questo cazzo di bagno. (p. 9, iPad iBooks e-edition)

Wars are unsettling mass actions of violence.  They rend, they tear, they shred previously held social conventions.  Neighbors who might differ on how they say a hello or how they worship a divinity suddenly might find themselves taking up arms against each other, trying to annihilate each other in the name of some ideology or religion (or at least that's what they tell each other; the ultimate truth might be more ghastly than these convenient excuses).  Civil wars are perhaps the most odious, because there is really no excuse about other polities threatening them; the violence comes from within and even families might be divided against each other.

Atrocities are the hallmark of war.  They are perhaps its apotheosis.  Massacres and rapes, plundering and pillaging, each of these is a sign and symptom of war's disgusting trail of violence.  It is easy to make the excuse, if one were present, that s/he were powerless to stop it, helpless in the wake of destructive frenzy unleashed upon a populace.  The Endlösung, My Lai, Sand Creek, Wounded Knee, Rwanda, Gaza – each of these have had some try to whitewash what has happened, claiming that if an event occurred (therefore trying to remove the indelible violence of hatred's reality), then it was something structural, something that those present could step away from and pretend that it wasn't they themselves, but those others who perpetuated it.  Do not blame them, for they were helpless, these "witnesses" of carnage claim.  We, after all, are not our brothers' (and sisters') keepers.

One particularly sobering example of this denial in the face of genocidal frenzy is Srebenica, where in July 1995, during the height of the Yugoslav wars, an entire Bosniak village of 8-10,000 men and boys was massacred while the UN observers failed to ensure their safety.  It was the worst atrocity of those wars and yet hardly anyone was ever convicted for their roles in this genocide.  Despite the relative silence of the subsequent two decades, Srebenica is a testimony to how people lose their voices when it comes to standing up or even questioning what drives peoples to "cleanse" their regions of others.  In his 2014 Premio Strega-longlisted novel, Come fossi solo (As I was Alone is a possible English translation), Marco Magini explores this issue of silence and almost-involuntary compliance with genocide.  He utilizes three characters, two of whom were present at the time of the massacre, to examine closely the antecedents for the massacre and how its aftermath affected two of the characters. 

Dirk is a Dutch soldier present as part of the UN peacekeeping mission.  He struggles to deal with the situation, trying to piece together how it all fell apart there in July 1995.   Dražen is a soldier of mixed ancestry who joins the Bosnian Serb militia and despite his own ambivalence, he is an active participant in the massacre.  Romeo is a Spanish judge who hears  Dražen's case at The Hague years later and he has to weigh the largely circumstantial evidence against him with other events that took place.  In each of the three men, the complex issues of responsibility and helplessness are examined in great detail.  Magini does an excellent job in developing internal tension in each of his three PoV characters, and by alternating between each of them (Dirk, Romeo, and Dražen in that order), we experience what was seen, what was judged, and why it may have been enacted in the first place.

However, this does not lead to settled conclusions.  Rather, the fuzziness surrounding individual understandings of this atrocity creates a growing sense of unease, as things turn out to be not as simple as one might presume.  Why did Dražen participate in the slaughter?  Not even he himself truly understands.  Magini is very careful to leave doubt open, not to exculpate anyone, but rather to force the reader to consider the true blindness of war rage and how it consumes even its enablers.

The prose for the most part is sharp and penetrating.  Magini often utilizes olfactory descriptors, such as the description of vomit's "deodorant," in order to convey the sickness of the situation.  This leads to a very concrete sort of prose, one that wastes little time in establishing the setting and the character viewpoints.  While there were a few occasions where more exposition could have been employed in order to make the impact even greater, on the whole Come fossi solo was a very good novel that I had hoped would have made the Premio Strega shortlist.  Hopefully there will be an English translation in the near future, as this debut novel appears to herald a new literary talent.

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