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Antonio Tabucchi: Tristano muore (Tristano Dies)

Tabucchi claims that he put a lot into this work but, sadly, for me it does not work. It is the ramblings of a man dying of gangrene, who is recounting his life to a man known only as the writer, with the occasional intervention of a woman he calls Die Frau, who may or may not have been his childhood nanny. Because of his gangrene he is on morphine which means that what he recounts may well be mixed up – he himself admits this – so we cannot be sure that his story is accurate. He does seem to have had two defining moments in his life. In Athens, when he was in the Italian army, a Nazi officer killed first a boy who was whistling a Greek patriotic tune and then an older woman who criticised the Nazi. Our narrator then proceeded to kill the Nazi (Italy and Germany were still on the same side) and the Greek partisans then came in and did the rest. Our hero escaped and was rescued by a Greek woman – Daphne. He spent the night with her and then had to flee. After the war, he came back to find her and may or may not have done so.

He then returned to Italy where he joined the partisans and, as we later found out, killed a traitor and three German soldiers the traitor was helping. He also met an American woman who worked with partisans whom he variously dubs Marilyn (as in Monroe) and Rosamunde (as in Schubert). (She calls him Clark, as in Gable.) He has an affair with her both at the time and after the war, when she has lived in Spain. Does he confuse her with Daphne? Most probably. Much of the novel is his concern with the issue of heroism. Was he a hero? What is a hero? For him, a hero is someone who overcomes fear to carry out a heroic act but is that valid? But his ramblings become confusing, as does his relationship with the writer and the housekeeper and it is not clear what Tabucchi is trying to achieve. Maybe I have simply missed the point, as the book has received considerable acclaim in Italy. Amazingly enough, despite Tabucchi’s reputation, you can read this book in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Serbian, Catalan, Galician, Polish, Slovenian, Turkish, Dutch and Greek, but not English.

Publishing history

First published by Mondadori in 2004
First published in English by Archipelago in 2015