Woman of Rome

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Lily Tuck’s Woman of Rome is a critical biography of the trailblazing though neglected Italian writer Elsa Morante. Her life offers rich material: Born in 1912 Rome, Morante was half Jewish, antifascist and anticommunist. She kept sexually frank diaries in which she replaced the dirty words with asterisks, married fellow novelist Alberto Moravia and spent WWII in a peasant’s tin shack. Energized by the war’s privations, she returned to Rome and lived la dolce vita, spending her evenings at trattorias with filmmakers Pasolini and Bertolucci, summering on Capri and composing feline-shaped odes to her beloved Siamese cats. Most important, she wrote novels, including History (1974), her antiwar masterpiece.

Even though Morante’s life was spectacularly idiosyncratic, Woman of Rome begins slowly, with a seemingly tenuous connection between the biographer and her subject. As a child, Tuck spent summers in Rome with her filmmaker father, and Morante’s Roman postwar intellectual bohemia nurtured Tuck’s own artistic roots. She imagines Morante and her younger self “almost [rubbing] elbows at Lion’s, the English bookstore near the Piazza di Spagna.” Information about Morante’s childhood is scarce, and the author’s diaries seem to discuss her dreams more than her waking life. However, as Tuck hits Morante’s prime—her novels, friendships, and love affairs—the narrative becomes less speculative and its raison d’être emerges: Woman of Rome is both Tuck’s convincing call to revive a difficult, important writer’s work, and a poetic recollection of a now-lost time in one of the world’s great cities.

Here is the second page of the body.

By Lily Tuck. Harper, $25.95.