"Back when I met you, the simple word 'love' provoked in me a mocking laughter. I had been convinced that love didn’t exist. I was wrong. What could our lifelong relationship have been if not a great love story? Your Edith, who searched everywhere for happiness and found it at your side."
Reading this dedication, you will likely think these are the closing sentiments of a romance novel. That’s exactly right. These are words from Susanna Tamaro's latest book, Una grande storia d'amore (“A Great Love Story”) (Solferino 2020, 17 euro).
The protagonist Patrizia (who has chosen to call herself Edith) writes this in a letter to Andrea, the man she loves, after having lived a turbulent life together, both which was full of joy and dotted with suffering.
A "story from other times”
The story is told from Andrea’s point of view, now elderly and widowed. He reflects back on his life spent with the only woman he ever really loved.
Andrea, a native of Veneto born in the 1950s, takes us back in time, to when cell phones and computers did not yet exist, to when communist ideology inspired the youth en masse. It was a time when women began their fight for emancipation, leading many of them to laugh at the idea of marriage – including Edith.
Edith is described as a sarcastic, rebellious girl, who even smoked in places where it wasn’t allowed. She was committed to the battle for emancipation together with her "comrades," and maintained an almost childlike enthusiasm and a particular vivacity (qualities which are unique to her character).
Behind her battles, her desire to break the chains, and her contempt for "love," however, there lies a good heart. She has a heart, which has felt deep loss, and she desperately needs to be taken by the hand, guarded, and protected. In a word: to be loved.
A love that withstands the wounds caused by human weakness
Andrea is a different kind of guy – much more structured and calm. And he has fallen head over heels for Edith. But it's not just a simple love affair; he truly feels that their souls are destined for one another.
Although at times he feels hurt – because fragile and fickle Edith pushes him away – he never stops loving her with all his heart, even in the most difficult times.
If she humiliates him, he doesn't loathe her. If she pulls away, what matters most to him is that Edith is okay. The miracle of true love is this: it knows no offense that cannot be forgiven.
Andrea – ten years older, pragmatic and schematic – dreams of getting married, starting a family, and building a life with someone. Edith effectively wants all of the same things. But when Andrea asks her to create this future together, she runs away because she doesn't feel ready. He does not then tie her down to him. Andrea being a good sea captain, accustomed to seeing ships leave and then return, he lets her go. He thinks: perhaps she too, like a boat tired of sailing, would eventually return to his port.
Out of loneliness, Andrea will relinquish himself to unfruitful relationships, only to realize that a soul is created only to experience true love.
True belonging can only be found in freedom
Andrea's patience, his unadulterated feelings, his ability to protect, his strength to accept even the pain that may come with Edith's fragility, will cause the girl to untie her knots, let go of her fears, and feel that it is worth putting down roots with someone who is ready to offer her a full life.
Marriage – which she ran away from in her youth and considered, in the first years of their union, to be a simple "piece of paper" – will eventually become the most important thing to Edith. It will not be a legal matter of making cohabitation official, but of finally calling that unique bond by its true name.
A novel that reaches the light at the end of the tunnel
This novel is not only a love story. It also highlights the fragilities that every human being has within.
It explores the reasons behind silly behaviors––the deeper reasons for which one runs away, drinks maybe one too many, or often jokes sarcastically.
And it also gives a possible antidote to the trap of the temptation of nonsense, an antidote that we see so perfectly summarized in this dialogue:
Andrea: "No one can know how or when they will die."
Amy: "It's all nonsense."
Andrea: "In some ways, yes. But it's insanity that has an antidote."
Amy: "What’s that?"
Andrea: "To live as if death doesn't exist."
Amy: "But it does exist."
Andrea: "If you live by loving, it doesn't."