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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Celestial City

Diego Marani

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Title: The Celestial City
Author: Diego Marani
Genre: Novel
Written: 2021 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 207 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Celestial City - UK
The Celestial City - Canada
La città celeste - Italia
  • Italian title: La città celeste
  • Translated by Graham Anderson

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Our Assessment:

B : nice little Trieste-framed revisiting-one's-youth

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The 'celestial city' of the title is Trieste, a "frontier outpost" -- the former Austro-Hungarian port city, now a part of Italy, jutting into Slovenia -- where the narrator went to university, the School of Translating and Interpreting (the Scuola di Lingue Moderne per Interpreti e Traduttori which author Marani attended; the novel is clearly autobiographical), and the novel is, in no small part, a kind of love letter to the city, bookended by two rail journeys, opening with the youth taking his first independent steps away from the family household in going to Trieste to study and concluding with the narrator returning to the city for the first time in forty years.
       The Celestial City is a look back at the heady days of youth -- student life, the close friendships he makes, his first passionate romances -- all framed and colored by the city of Trieste. From the first he finds a timeless quality to the city -- it: "seemed to worship the past, whatever it might have been" -- and so also, when he heads back decades later, he recognizes that this is part of its essence and its specialness:

This city which mocks passing time, which is always on the wane, which sidesteps the future, which it is futile to conquer and impossible to alter, a city that will always be a frontier outpost even if there are no longer any frontiers today.
       He describes his (very) motley crew of roommates -- and their rather striking living conditions ... --, bonds formed, over parties, shared food and living, and playing (poorly) for the same football team that have lasted a lifetime:
It was this home, which had brought us together, that turned us into a mutually supportive community. It is this home that has made us into the band we are today, in spite of geographical distances.
       The Italian-Slovenian overlap features prominently too, not least in the two women he falls in love with, first Vesna -- friendly towards him, but already with a fiancé -- and then his first great passion, her younger sister, Jasna. Among the amusing anecdotes of him trying to prove himself as a part of the Slovenian community has him set up a bank account at the Slovenian bank of Trieste, the Tržaška Kreditna Banka, despite considerable hurdles, not least the resistance of the functionary there he has to deal with. For all that, and despite being a student of language, he struggles with and never picks up Slovenian .....
       The narrator is also a would-be writer, penning poems and getting an occasional column in the local newspaper; he also eventually enters a story-contest, the story reproduced here in full.
       It's all quite charming and amusing, though of course in its arc and many of its elements all quite familiar. Marani has a sure enough hand that he easily shapes this into an engaging read, making for a nice little melancholy- and nostalgia-tinged read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 18 February 2024

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The Celestial City: Reviews: Other books by Diego Marani under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author and linguist Diego Marani was born in 1959.

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© 2024 the complete review

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