This week for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge I'm reading Follow Your Heart by Susanna Tamaro. It is translated from Italian to English by John Cullen.
As a side note, the book I read last week - Comedy in a Minor Key - also was a translation (Dutch to English). This isn't intentional in choosing these books, but certainly interesting to read literature written by authors whose works were published in other countries before being published in the United States.
Follow Your Heart is a story about an elderly woman who writes a letter - a confession - to her granddaughter who she raised. The granddaughter is now living in the United States, and is estranged from her grandmother.
The grandmother has everything in order as she is preparing to die, all except one secret she has kept for many years. As the back cover the book says, the letter contains "...a story of love, death, and propriety, of words unspoken, of lives wasted, of secrets she had vowed to take to her grave but must now share to heal the lives mortally wounded by a lie."
The letter "is the ultimate gift of love and liberation, from one woman to another - a road map straight to the center of ourselves, where we can gather the courage to follow our hearts."
The letter - written from November 17th through December 22nd, 1992 - is a free-flow of thoughts, reflections, and insight. Some of the information the grandmother shares with the granddaughter is personal and gives a different perspective about the family and circumstances surrounding the granddaughter's mother's death.
Other times, the information shared in the letter is like trivial details one might share when writing a chatty letter to a friend. For example, in the November 18th entry, the grandmother refers to a tv documentary she watched about animals and how they dream.
She wrote, "All creatures in the animal hierarchy, from birds on up, dream a lot .... They all dream, but not all in the same way. Animals that are basically prey have short dreams, more like apparitions than real dreams. In contrast, predators' dreams are long and complicated. The narrator said, 'Oneiric activity is a way of organizing survival strategies. Hunter must incessantly work out new methods of getting food for themselves, while those that are hunted...have to think about only one thing: the fastest way to escape."
Another entry on November 20th refers to the grandmother when she was a child and her family's aging dog. The dog had a swelling on his throat and had not beeing acting the way he used to. One morning, she came home from school and the dog, Argus, was not waiting at the gate for her. "Where's Argus?" she asked her father.
"'Argus,' he said, without lifting his eyes from his newspaper. 'Argus has gone away.' "But why?' I asked. 'Because he was tired of the tricks you played on him.' Tactlessness? Shallowness? Sadism? What kind of answer was that? The moment I heart those words, something broke inside me."
The grandmother gives other examples of disturbing things and behavior towards her when she was a young child. This truly shaped who she was and what she was capable of handling as an adult and a mother herself. As she wrote in her letter, "That's why I say I became an adult at six years old, because at that age my joy was replaced by anxiety, my curiosity gave way to indifference."
She talked about destiny and how one's view of one's life changes with each decade. "Around the age of sixty, when the road at your back is longer than the one in front of you, you see something you've never seen before: the road you've traveled wasn't straight, but forking constantly, at every step there was a turning, an arrow indicating a new direction .... You've taken some of those side roads without noticing it, and there are others you didn't even see."
The grandmother continued, "At the forks in your road you encounter other lives. Getting to know them or not, merging with them or passing them by, depends solely on the choice you make in a moment; though you may not know it, your whole life and the lives of those close to you are at stake when you choose whether to go straight or turn aside."
And with that...she is foreshadowing what is to come...and the secret she has held onto for many years but is now ready to reveal to her granddaughter.