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Maria de la Pau Janer: Pasiones romanas [Roman Passions]

We start with Ignacio who, at the beginning of the novel is travelling home to Palma from Barcelona. He is married but is not happy in his marriage. He has spoken to his wife by phone and has promised her that he will be back in time to go out to dinner with her sister (whose birthday it is) for dinner that evening.

The flight from Rome has been called and the passengers for that flight leave. Ignacio notices that the man who had been sitting opposite him had gone off to the flight but left his wallet behind. Ignacio takes the wallet and hurries to the gate. He takes a look inside the wallet to see if he can find the man’s name. However, inside the wallet he sees a photo. It is a photo of Dana, his girlfriend of ten years ago.

Gradually we learn what Ignacio does as a result. He makes a feeble excuse to his wife about work and spends the night at the airport, in order to catch an early plane to Rome. There is an address in the wallet and, on arrival in Rome, he has the taxi driver take him there. It is a pension and the lady there does not know Dana nor recognise her photo. However, one of the guests is Matilde (whom, by now, we have met and know to be a friend of Dana) does recognise the photo.

Before we and Ignacio get to Rome, we have been following the stories of a series of characters, most of whom are from Palma, though all of whom end up in or, at least, pass through Rome, hence the title of the book.

Matilde has been married three times. All her husbands had died. Ignacio is married to Marta. He is a lawyer. Dana is a radio journalist in Palma. Their paths crossed several times (Janer had them, for example, sitting in a concert hall at the same time but not actually meeting). Eventually, they do meet when Dana is asked to do a radio programme about lawyers. She is with Amadeo but things are not going particularly well and soon Dana and Ignacio fall for each other, both planning on breaking up their current relationships.

The couple find a nice flat and Ignacio moves out of the family home. Marta does not take it well, swearing vicious vengeance. Then, one day, Ignacio gets a phone call from Marta. Their son, Jorge, has been badly injured in a car crash in Barcelona. Ignacio hurries off to Barcelona. Dana is left dangling till, finally, Ignacio tells her he is staying with Marta for the sake of the family. Dana is devastated and flees Palma, eventually making her way to Rome. She meets Matilde, who comforts her and, eventually meets an antiques dealer called Gabriele.

In Rome, the man who lost his wallet is Gabriele and he is now living with Dana. Also in Rome are Marcos and Antonia who always seem to be verbally sparring with one another. Marcos was married to his childhood sweetheart, Monica, who always seem to be falling. He tells Dana (whom he meets in the staircase of his building) that she has died. Indeed, she had a stroke and eventually the doctors said there was no brain activity and it was time to pull the plug. Marcos cannot bear to do so and, leaving Monica to the care of her parents (she is their only child), he flees to Rome. Yes, he meets Dana and Matilde but gets together with Antonia.

While we have been following these stories (and one or two others) we have only slowly been learning what Ignacio did when he found Gabriele’s wallet. As mentioned he goes to Rome and tries to find Dana. Thanks to Matilde, Gabriele has been forewarned that he is around.

There are six main female characters in this book. All of them lose a man (in some cases more than one man), either because he dies or because he leaves her (generally for another woman). In short, Janer seems to be saying that romantic attachments are not generally a good idea. What does, more or less, work is friendship. The Palma community in Rome seem to be good friends and help each other out. Matilde helps Dana when she is bitterly depressed on arrival in Rome, spending most of her time in bed. Marcos also helps Dana.

Janer seems to be taking this very seriously. There is virtually no humour and no mockery or satire. Everything and everyone are treated in deadly earnest. They work, they have affairs, their affairs fail, they are seriously depressed, they eventually move on (or, in some cases, they do not move on.) It does not end particularly happily. To sum up, this is not a happy book to read.

First published by Planeta in 2005
No English translation
First published in Catalan as Passions romanes by Columna in 2006
Translated by the author

Fìrst published in German as Wohin die Liebe dich trägt by Blanvalet in 2007
Translated by Sabine Giersberg

First published in Portuguese as Paixões Romanas by Planeta in 2006