Moral ambiguity. Escape. These ideas so much of what entertains, scares and intrigues us. Whether I'm reading a John Irving novel watching Dexter, sympathizing with a manipulative doctor or a serial killer, the idea or moral ambiguity is what allows me to inhabit the shoes of individuals so very different from myself. De Cataldo's The Father and the Foreigner gave me a front-row seat to these feelings and the effects they can have on an individual.
Diego and Walid share the experience of being devoted fathers of seriously ill sons. Their sons are the center of their world. In Diego's case, this has allowed him to let everything else in his become peripheral including his job and his wife. In Walid, he finds an exotic surprise-a life. Risk, intrigue, exotic and new experiences. In Walid, Diego tastes the freedom of something new and possibly dangerous. In a manner reminiscent of A Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, De Cataldo includes examinations of immigrant life and attitudes on race and culture in modern Italy.
From Diego's observations (though not neccessarily his opinion on foreigners):
"In popular fantasies and resentments, painted Gypsies, clever Moroccans, dignified Indians, chattering South Americans, pallid Poles, and very black Equatorial Africans were only a single undifferentiated personification of the Different Foreigner...They were hated. They had turned Italy into a racist country."
From Walid's conversations to Walid:
"You Westerners! You always put everything into your compartments! Who said it's a celebration? For you, when it's a celebration it's a celebration. And that's it. When it's work it's work. And that's it. When it's sorrow it's sorrow. For us, on the other hand, celebration, work, sorrow are all one thing. So when men work or suffer too much, that calls for a good party."
Diego and Walid's relationship grows and strengthens, showing Diego what he might have been missing for so long in the form of companionship and the relationship he could be having with his son. The plot is almost ancillary to the development of character. Diego's questioning of how far he will go to maintain this connection of brotherhood he shares with Walid takes him into those gray areas that make for such great reading. Situations where internal debate about what we would do in the same situation while simultaneously hoping we never encounter them in real life. Where we hope we do the "right" thing, but not 100% sure we could pinpoint exactly what that is.
I enjoyed this book on several levels, but especially for its restraint. Sensuality, violence, brotherhood, fatherhood, responsibility and choice interplay in such subtlety that I never felt guided or shown. Every development was organic and seamless. Scenes where more detail would simply be more detail were almost non-existent (side note: I do love detail for detail's sake in books. I loved The Novel Bookstore and I love almost every John Irving book, and those all could be argued as books that exist simply for detail's sake). Some may dislike The Father and the Foreigner for that reason, if you look for more than De Cataldo is showing you may not find what you are looking for. Think a play staged with a minimal set- the focus is solely on the actors. This was an interestingly deep short read- my 11th on track for Amante this year.