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April 28, 2014

Book Notes - Francesca Marciano "The Other Language"

The Other Language

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Francesca Marciano's The Other Language is a magnificent collection of short stories filled with fascinating, yet displaced characters around the world.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"What makes these tales stand out is Marciano’s sympathetic but wryly unsentimental ability—not unlike Alice Munro’s—to capture the entire arc of a character’s life in a handful of pages, and her precise yet fluent prose that immerses us, ineluctably, in the predicaments of her men and women"

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Francesca Marciano's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection, The Other Language:


I no longer listen to music when I write, it distracts me. But music still does its magic in subterranean ways that are reflected in my work unexpectedly. I'll be sitting on the subway or walking on the street with my earphones worrying about being blocked, a dead end I'm facing in my writing—and suddenly a song will come up that will, like a wrecking ball, remove the obstacle. All the stories in The Other Language have to do with transformation, with an unconscious longing to become a different person. The characters are caught in moments of crisis: they are far away from home, in the midst of a divorce or a reunion with an ex-lover, always stepping outside their comfort zone, and not only geographically. Nothing compares to music when it comes to nostalgia or desire.

"Carey," Joni Mitchell
Emma, the 16 year-old in the first story in the collection, sings these lyrics in an endless loop.

The wind is in from Africa

Last night I couldn't sleep
Oh, you know it sure is hard to leave here Carey

But it's really not my home

My fingernails are filthy, I got beach tar on my feet

And I miss my clean white linen and my fancy French cologne

When I was a teenager and I first heard the song, I felt as if those lyrics opened up a whole new universe. There was something so seductive in the image of a free-spirited young woman living on a Greek island. I, too, wanted to feel the wind coming from Africa and feel beach tar on my feet. So there it went, right into the first story as a kind of opening mantra for the book.

"You," George Harrison
"Chanel," the second story, takes place in Venice during the film festival. Caterina is a filmmaker who ends up buying a dress she cannot afford and will never wear. In the story, Caterina happens to watch a documentary on an aging rock star from the Seventies who has retired at the peak of his career. She feels "a terrible sorrow for the man's death, for his absence—the world needed more enlightened people like him— and sorry for herself, for getting older, for being mortal, for all the music she still wanted to hear, the books she intended to read, the places she had meant to visit . . . and probably never would." The idea had come to me after watching the amazing Scorsese documentary on George Harrison. For some reason it killed me; I guess I couldn't bear to think such a wonderful enlightened man was no longer with us. And listening again to his music was a revelation.

"About Today," The National
I remember being at the gate at Fiumicino airport, listening to this song. It broke my heart: the sadness of that first moment, where one knows/feels "How close am I to losing you?"
And, immediately, I wanted to finish the story I was writing, "An Indian Soirée," about a married couple who, during a vacation on the banks of the Narmada River in India, realize their marriage of 16 years is about to unravel.

"This Must be the Place," David Byrne
In "Quantum Theory," two people who met many years before at a party meet again, by pure chance, in the middle of the bush in Kenya and realize that the memory of that first encounter and the attraction that it had ignited "must have been lingering somewhere beneath the surface—invisible, yet bobbing about." It's night, they are pretty drunk, but elated to find themselves together in a car with loud music playing from the speaker. I was thinking of this completely incongruous song blasting through the African bush. In my head that's the track that could've been playing.

"Rome," Phoenix
The last story in the book is called "Roman Romance." It's about a song by the same title, written by a mega famous American rock star, and the woman he'd been in love with twenty years earlier, when he was a young American student living in Rome. It's about the power that a song can have on one's life, especially if everyone believes the song is about them when it's not. So maybe "Rome" by Phoenix was in some ways an inspiration. Someone wakes up alone in a bed, in Rome. Looking toward the Colosseum. The song is airy, yet melancholic. It was this mix of emotions and tones I was trying to conjure in the story itself.


Francesca Marciano and The Other Language links:

Kirkus review
The Millions review
New York Times review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Washington Times review

Publishers Weekly profile of the author
Weekend Edition interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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