Nardo, a former teacher in Chile who was tortured during Pinochet’s regime for introducing his students to revolutionary poetry, is working to resolve his psychological debris with a therapist at a centre for the rehabilitation of torture victims in Copenhagen.
Michela begins a relationship with a younger man, Voss, following the breakdown of her abusive marriage and her teenage daughter’s suicide. Voss starts to exhibit strange, abusive, dangerous behaviour. Michela is also caring for her elderly parents, estranged but reunited in the same nursing facility, separated by two floors. Her father suffers the final stages of bowel cancer; her mother’s mind has been muddled by Alzheimer’s disease.
In this grim pasture, a gentle friendship grows between Michela and Nardo, meeting first as strangers sharing smiles in a café. Later, they connect over a tango, and later still, over a glass of wine. When Nardo tells Michela, in third person, his story of tragedy and redemption, it provides the impetus for her to leave her current disintegrating relationship and move forward.
This mature, meditative novel presents the beauty of the human condition in the face of its ugliness and sadness. A study of survival in its many forms, it examines with subtlety and grace the roles of daughter, lover, parent, and carer.
Characters share poetry, sad stories, and a lot of alcohol – often it seems not a page can be turned without a drink poured. Copenhagen itself is so strongly present the city is another character, and in fact this book is the first to be published in Australia from Kennedy’s “Copenhagen Quartet” (although it is the third in the series). The next installment is eagerly awaited.
Reviewed August 2010
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