Tamaro, Susanna 1958-

views updated

TAMARO, Susanna 1958-

PERSONAL: Born 1958, in Trieste, Italy. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.

ADDRESSES: Home—Rome, Italy. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Doubleday, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.

CAREER: Screenwriter and novelist.


Per voce sola, Marsilio (Venice, Italy), 1991, translation by Sharon Wood published as For Solo Voice, Carcanet (Manchester, England), 1995.

Va dove ti porta il cuore, Baldini & Castoldi (Milan, Italy), 1994, translation by John Cullen published as Follow Your Heart, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1995.

Il Cerchio magico, illustrated by Tony Ross, A. Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1995.

Anima Mundi, Baldini & Castoldi (Milan, Italy), 1997.

Cara Mathilda: Non vedo l'ora che l'uomo cammini (originally published in Famiglia cristiana, 1996-97), Cinisello Balsamo (Milan, Italy), 1997.

Tobia e l'angelo, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1998.

Verso casa, Ares (Milan, Italy), 1999, translation published as Turning Home: A Memoir, Crossroad (New York, NY), 2000.

La Testa fra le nuvole, con La Dormeuse electronique: Elogio della grazia (title means "Head in the Clouds"), Marsilio (Venice, Italy), 1999.

Rispondimi (title means "Answer Me"), Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 2001, translation by John Cullen published as Rispondimi Doubleday (New York, NY), 2001.

Piu fuoco, piu vento, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 2002.

Fuori, Rizzoli (Milan, Italy), 2003.

Contributor to The Quality of Light: Modern Italian Short Stories, edited by Ann and Michael Caesar, Serpent's Tail (New York, NY), 1993.

SIDELIGHTS: Italian writer Susanna Tamaro wrote children's fiction and did some screenwriting before gaining international attention with her adult novel Follow Your Heart in 1995. By 1996 the novel had been reprinted eighteen times and translated into English. Other novels from the controversial author have been described by Observer critic Kate Kellaway as "funny, fantastical, gruelling, dark." With her controversial Anima Mundi, Tamaro looks at Italian prisoners held in communist prisons in Yugoslavia following World War II, and in the 2001 Rispondimi, she presents a trio of novellas that once again reached the top of international best-seller charts.

Olga, the narrator in Follow Your Heart, is an elderly woman whose own words summarize the book's theme: "It is not the absence of the dead that weighs on us," she tells her estranged granddaughter who is living in the United States, "but the words left unspoken between them and us." Lilian Pizzichini, a reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement, commented on Tamaro's portrayal of Olga's revelation of her unhappiness after her silence leads to the death of her illegitimate daughter: "Childlike simplicity is valued as a refuge from the world of politics, religion and adult relationships; the intellectual suppression of the emotions is a tyranny to be resisted." Olga's secrecy, blame, and shame, besides her joyless marriage, have choked the life from her. Now in her eighties, lonely, and dying, she wants to change that through her diary to her granddaughter.

New Statesman and Society critic Boyd Tonkin noted of the English translation, "You may import the words in pristine condition, but their cultural effects stick stubbornly at home." Tonkin added, "Still, if you seek a spot of homespun comfort, far rather this hard-won serenity than the cliches of [The Bridges of] Madison County."

In the Observer, Kellaway related that Follow Your Heart has surprisingly been read by both intellectuals and those who hardly read at all. One reader bought forty copies, which Tamaro explained by saying that in Italy the novel "is used by families as therapy: they read it aloud to each other." According to Kellaway, Tamaro, unmarried and brought up by her mother and grandparents, feels the book speaks to people because, "In Italy … people talk easily about sex, uneasily about emotion. This is a book about emotion. There is also, she thinks, a nostalgia for family relationships, even a tattered one like the one she describes." In an Italian interview, Tamaro asserted that all her books are about "failure and death."

After an earthquake in 1976, Tamaro, a survivor when many of her friends and neighbors had died, realized how much she wanted to live. Follow Your Heart was the result of that realization. In an Italian magazine interview quoted by the online journal Canoe, Tamaro described her 1997 novel, Anima Mundi, as "a book against the blindness of all fanaticism—of right and left—that have afflicted this century." In the book, Walter, who detests his communist father, strolls about the countryside pondering good and evil. According to Tamaro, reported a reviewer in Canoe, growing up in the port city of Trieste, near Italy's border with the former Yugoslavia, where atrocities were committed by both left and right groups in World War II, explains why she continues to write as she does—about failure and death.

Tamaro again made headlines with her 2001 collection Rispondimi, which presents a trio of "cruel, unsettling histories," according to James Urquhart, writing in the Times Literary Supplement. Scandal broke out soon after publication when a fellow author and friend accused Tamaro of plagiarism. Sued for almost three million dollars in damages, Tamaro responded with her own countersuit and denied any wrongdoing.

In the title novella, an au pair named Rosa tries to make it on her own in rural Italy, only to be sexually abused by her employer and then fired for supposed theft. In "No Such Thing as Hell," a widow regrets that she did not have the courage to resist her dead husband's sadistic ways, and in "The Burning Wood," the wife of a forester forms a new friendship that frees her of her dependence on her husband. Reviewing the collection in Booklist, Carol Haggas found it a "spare yet intricate tapestry" that plumbs the "depths of despair and destruction." Writing in World Literature Today, Martha King similarly described the novellas as "stories of unremittingly grim lives." Urquhart thought that the major theme of all three tales is "the power of evil over unassuming lives." However, for Urquhart, "the stories do not get to the heart of the moral dilemmas they propose." Jeff Zaleski of Publishers Weekly, on the other hand, called Rispondimi a "provocative collection" that "skillfully explores themes of religion, depression, jealousy, violence and isolation." Zaleski further praised Tamaro for the "clear and resonant moral vision" she invested in her narrative.



Tamaro, Susanna, Follow Your Heart, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1995.


Booklist, March 1, 2002, Carol Haggas, review of Rispondimi, p. 1094.

Economist, May 17, 1997, review of Anima Mundi, pp. S13-14.

Europe, April, 1995, Niccolo d'Aquino, "Susanna Tamaro," pp. 38-39.

Guardian (Manchester, England), April 2, 2001, Rory Carroll, "Answer Me with Damages," p. 14.

Library Journal, July, 1995, Shannon Dekle, review of Follow Your Heart, p. 124.

New Statesman and Society, June 30, 1995, Boyd Tonkin, review of Follow Your Heart, p. 40.

Observer, June 25, 1995, Kate Kellaway, review of Follow Your Heart, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly, July 3, 1995, review of Follow Your Heart, p. 47; February 4, 2002, Jeff Zaleski, review of Rispondimi, p. 50.

Times Literary Supplement, October 6, 1995, Lilian Pizzichini, review of Follow Your Heart, p. 31; March 1, 2002, James Urquhart, review of Rispondimi, p. 24.

World Literature Today, spring, 2002, Martha King, review of Rispondimi, p. 218.

World Press Review, June, 1997, Doja Hacker and Maria Gazzetti, "Against the Grain," p. 39.


Canoe, http://www.canoe.ca (April 4, 1997).

HamptonClick, http://www.hamptonclick.com/ (1998).

Publishing Trends, http://www.publishingtrends.com/ (November 3, 2003), "International Fiction Bestsellers."

Share International, http://www.shareintl.org/ (January-February, 1998).*