Picks and Pans Review: 1934

updated 05/30/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/30/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Alberto Moravia

A young Italian writer who is also a translator of German philosophical literature goes to the island of Capri. There, he hopes, he will find a way either to live with his despair or to commit suicide. On the way he falls in love with a German woman who has green eyes, bright red hair and a surly husband. She encourages his attentions, and they flirt right under the husband's nose. They also make a suicide pact, like one described in a book by an author whose work the young man is translating. But the woman leaves the island, and the translator gets another visitor: the woman's identical twin sister. This is a novel fraught with symbolism. Germany and Italy in 1934 were, of course, both fascist states and engaged in a kind of suicide pact of their own. There is, too, more than sufficient reason for the hero's despair, especially since the "raving eloquence" of Hitler's speeches fills the radios. This is a modern European novel much in the manner of Camus's The Stranger or Sartre's Nausea. Characters are introduced and then allowed to tell their life stories in a most unrealistic fashion. But the descriptions of Capri and its waters, its moods and natives, are magnificent, and one scene that takes place in a rowboat is as erotic as anything ever written—not pornographic, not sexy, just genuinely erotic. Moravia, whose other books have included Two Women, The Conformist and The Empty Canvas, has in this case created a brilliant, original depiction of prewar Europe. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14.95)

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