Paolo Giordano ‘The Human Body’

—In the years following the mission, each of the guys set out to make his life unrecognizable, until the memories of that other life, that earlier existence,img_1064 were bathed in a false, artificial light and they themselves became convinced that none of what took place had actually happened, or at least not to them.

Paolo Giordano’s The Human Body was written using his experience as an embedded journalist in an Italian peace mission in Afghanistan. The title loses its double meaning in the translation being both a body and a military unit in the original Italian, this story investigates a military unit by following a number of individuals through the senselessness and boredom of their mission, their ill preparedness for the intense stress caused by a mission outside of their base that goes terribly wrong and how this incident transforms them, illustrated by the opening quote.

In particular we meet the squad leader René, a career soldier respected by his men and who when he is not on mission is a Gigolo with a string of middle aged paying customers, the loud mouthed Cederna and his young acolyte, the “virgin” Ietri, as well as Mitrano who is bullied by Cederna, Zampieri the only woman in the unit who has continually to prove herself and Torsu, who from the mission outset has health problems. When they arrive in Afghanistan they are joined by Egitto the garrison Doctor has decided to stay on for another mission, Paolo Giordano talks us through everyday bored military life as here in a discussion between Cederna and Ietri

—The embarrassing truth is that Ietri has never been with a woman, not in the sense that he considers complete. No one in the platoon knows this and it would be a disaster if they were to find out. The only one who knows is Cederna; he told him about it himself one evening at the pub when they were both smashed and in the mood for confiding. “Complete? You mean to say you’ve never fucked?” “Well, not . . . fully.” “A goddamn little virgin! Hey, I have a new name for you: verginella…. Listen up now—it’s important. The tool down there is like a rifle. A 5.56, with a metal stock and laser sighting.” Cederna shoulders an invisible weapon and aims it at his friend. “If you don’t remember to oil the barrel from time to time, it will end up jamming.” Ietri looks down at his mug of beer. He takes too big a swig, begins to cough. Jammed. He’s a guy who’s jammed. “Even Mitrano manages to shoot his wad every now and then,” Cederna says. “He pays.”

For their peacekeeping mission they are stationed in an inhospitable landscape, their base camp is on the top of a hill, isolated from the country they are there to help in order to provide its own safety:

—The truth is, as in all of the operations since the start of the conflict, the clearing of the area has only been partial, the secure zone extends for a radius of 2km around the base, some dangerous pockets of guérillas remain within this zone and outside of the zone it’s hell…***

After several moral sapping isolated months on the hill top, peacekeeping, they are forced to leave their base in convoy to escort some Afghan  lorry drivers who have had their lorries taken from them through the inhospitable zone which surrounds their hill. Paolo Giordano conveys to us just how easy a target they actually are, up to and including the moments of the tragedy.

A study of futility, the smallness of our individual lives and the impossibility of the peacekeeping mission in this inhospitable territory.

First Published in Italian as “Il corpo umamo” in 2012 by Arnoldo Mondadori.
Translated into French by Nathalie Bauer as ‘Le corps humain’ and published by Seuil in 2013
Translated into English by Anne Milano Appel as “The Human body”and published by Viking Penguin in 2014
*** My translation

Daniel Kehlmann “Fame”

This is a novel in nine stories and as Leo, a famous author says “Stories within stories within stories. You never  know where one ends and the the next starts! To tell the truth they all blend together, they’re only ever really separated in books”.***

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Kehlmann strings together for us nine seemingly weakly intertwined novels, using varying writing styles, I thought I recognised a similarity to The Book Of Dave in chapter 7.

The link between the chapters seems to me to be role play and disappearance:

From the man whose telephone number is given to someone else and who thus effectively disappears, to the man later in the book who has the responsibility for editing new phone numbers and who, caught up in relationships with two different women, asks himself “If I was mad?….in which labyrinth I was lost? I’d advanced step by step, none of them seemed large or difficult, but without realising it I’d advanced so far that I could no longer see the way out…..but during the daytime, when I got up and took on each of my roles as if they were the only one, everything seemed to me once again to be easy and almost normal”***

From the woman writer who replaces Leo on a book tour in an eastern country and who was not expected, (she wasn’t Leo) and who steadily disappears, to the writer of this book who appears in a veiled manner taking on roles in the book and who eventually disappears.

I enjoyed this book and was not tempted to pause between the distinct chapters.

First published if German as Ruhm in 2009 by Rowohlt Verlag
Translated into French by Juliette Aubert and published by Actes Sud in 2009
Translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway and published by Quercus in 2011

***Book read in French, my translation with excuses to Carol Brown Janeway