Oct 19, 2007

I've been so busy and overwhelmed trying to complete my book revision and a few big projects for work before I flit off to Italy a week from this Sunday--plus Anton and Orly have very inconveniently decided to get MARRIED tomorrow, with not whit of consideration for my schedule!--that I'm only now posting about this astonishing book I read earlier in the week by the author I was on a panel with in Nashville (and spent hours drinking vino with after). Her name is Lara Santoro and the book is Mercy. It's her first novel (she's from Italy, studied literature in the U.S. and France, spent years as a journalist in Africa, then moved to New Mexico to finish this book, working in a frenzy) and it just came out a few weeks ago. Just look at the first page:

Show me a place as full of God as this. Show me land gathered at the seams by thorns as thick. Show me rivers as full of light, of tumult. Show me life as cheap, song as full.
Mina na wewe…” Mercy sang in the kitchen, her vast behind keeping stroke.
“Why the journalists they come to Africa?” she asks, “To see the people dying?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I mutter, flicking through the daily paper, mentally adding up the dead.
“We don’t do massacres,” my editor warned but what else was there to do? I became a chronicler of pain, the dead stacking up in the mortuary of my mind unburied. “Give us the ray of light in the dark,” my editor said but there was no light to speak of. The longer I stayed, the angrier I became, until—with the mute coherence of all seismic events—Africa unshackled itself from my perception and brought me proof of light beyond light.

I couldn't put the book down. Also, read this.

Oh, AND. The lovely author River Jordan, who is really the one who invited me to the festival, hosted a panel on Sunday for Tito Perdue, this amazing Alabama writer who's published five books but remains little known and had never read before in public, despite the fact that NY Press called him one of the most important writers of the early 21st century and there are just reams of praise about him. Anyway, I didn't know what to expect and really just went to see River, and then this most charming and delightful and elegant man stood up and just wove spells over the audience. He started out apologizing for his tie--a multi-colored harlequin concoction--and explained that his wife had once had a dress made out of the material and the only way he could get her to stop wearing it was by asking her to make him a tie from it. His wife, by the way, of over 50 years, was sitting in the front row and was just completely beautiful and sweet, smiling at him the whole time. (And he kept mentioning her and said at one point how at some level all his books are a celebration of his marriage.) He talked about his books in this wondrous, meandering way, and talked about the South and about Faulkner and Wolfe and Hemingway, and told all kinds of little hilarious, deadpan stories in his lilting accent, and read a few pages from the opening of his latest novel Fields of Asphodel, which follows this character Lee who has been in previous books through the afterlife. And then afterwards of course I bought a copy, and when I asked him to sign it he said he'd give me the best inscription I've ever gotten and this is what he wrote:

For Carolyn
Your taste in books is superb!!