Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

If You Kept a Record of Sins

Andrea Bajani

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase If You Kept a Record of Sins

Title: If You Kept a Record of Sins
Author: Andrea Bajani
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 200 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: If You Kept a Record of Sins - US
If You Kept a Record of Sins - UK
If You Kept a Record of Sins - Canada
Si tu retiens les fautes - France
Lorenzos Reise - Deutschland
Se consideri le colpe - Italia
directly from: Archipelago Books
  • Italian title: Se consideri le colpe
  • Translated by Elizabeth Harris
  • With an Afterword by Edmund White

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : small, beautifully written tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 28/3/2021 Anderson Tepper

  From the Reviews:
  • "Bajani etches an impressionistic portrait of a young man -- like the foreign city outside his window -- trapped in a shadow land between past and present." - Anderson Tepper, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       If You Kept a Record of Sins is narrated by Lorenzo, and begins with his arrival in Bucharest, for the funeral of his mother. The narrative, the account of his days in Romania then, is a monologue addressed to the mother, a woman with whom the back and forth of conversation, or any form of active engagement is no longer possible. As we soon realize, this isn't a great stretch from the state of their relationship even before her death: if not quite estranged, mother and son had long had an increasingly disengaged relationship, drifting so far apart that little remained connecting them in any way.
       Lorenzo's mother, Lula, was a successful businesswoman who, from the time Lorenzo was very young, traveled extensively and was away for extended periods of time. As we learn: "Before, you had a different life": Lula was born into a wealthy family, and though she was always something of a disappointment to her parents was very much part of it; she also married -- and then, with one fell swoop, was cast off by both families, the one she was born into and the ne she married into, when she had an affair. It was just a fling, and though she became pregnant, the man did not assume a role as father of the child or partner in her life.
       Lorenzo was the product of the decisive breaks with her former, comfortable situation -- with Lula then never seeming able to grab hold of any sense of stability after that. When Lorenzo was three, Lula introduced a man into their lives, Emilio, a stepfather that Lorenzo was encouraged from the first to call 'Dad' (as he does practically throughout; we only even learn his name late on), but she seemed unable to fully buy into this new family unit: Dad remained -- to the bitter end -- but Lula began her business trips, staying away for longer periods of time, calling home less and less frequently.
       Lula found success with a weight-loss machine she invented, an enormous egg-shaped machine into which you stepped, the top then lowered to completely enclose the body, whereupon it did its magic (something to do with the: "electric ionization of oxygen"). The symbolism of the egg -- which Lula herself describes as: "a second gestation, like entering the world a second time" -- is hard to overlook. It, and its success, did allow Lula a kind of reïnvention -- not least with the man long referred to by Lorenzo only as her partner, with whom she spent increasing amounts of time, and whom she eventually left Emilio (and Lorenzo) for, settling down in Romania with him -- a transition that had already been building with her: "early trips, two weeks there and back at most". Contact became evermore sporadic after that, until the near-present, when there was little more than a call around Christmas or so.
       Lula's partner, Anselmi, remained a business partner but eventually took up with another woman and, as Lorenzo learns, his mother had long really let herself go before her death. Apparently, she had once considered returning to Italy, but couldn't bring herself to go through with it, remaining -- and crumbling -- in Romania.
       The Romania Lorenzo travels to is a land of opportunity and reïnvention. Anselmi introduces Lorenzo to some friends of his, and points out:

Look at them, he whispered, meaning his five friends. Look how ugly they are. But here they could start over. In Italy, they didn't mean shit. And now -- he was shouting a little -- now, here they are.
       For all the opportunity, for all her business success, Lula seems never to have found the life she might have been hoping for. The symbolism of entering the oversize egg is then neatly mirrored in that of the coffin, as one of the people Lorenzo gets to know is the successful coffin-maker Viarengo, a close friend of his mother's. Viarengo tells Lorenzo that his mother often visited his workplace -- and that liked she lying down in the coffins, something his workers also regularly did ("They do it to check the handles, Viarengo said, though it's not really necessary"). On this pilgrimage to this world of his mother's that he was entirely unfamiliar with Lorenzo, too, lets himself be put in a coffin, the lid put on, and then lifted up .....
       Throughout his trip, Lorenzo thinks back to his childhood and his relationship with his so often absent mother, and his -- and Emilio's -- struggles to maintain the illusion of a regular family unit. Communication openly breaks down, in Lula's inability to maintain even the routines of regular telephone calls, much less personal visits -- but then her parents aren't much better, as Lorenzo describes the rare encounters with that part of the family, including the devastating one when Lula first wants to introduce the boy to his grandparents.
       Post-Ceaușescu Romania is a fitting locale, with its constant reminders of trying to move on but not quite being able to let go of the past. Among the few sites Lorenzo visits while in Bucharest is the so-called Ceaușescu Palace:
The guide had walked us through only one floor, and then we had to leave. But worst of all, she never mentioned Ceaușescu. Not even once. We'd gone in there to learn about him, what he'd been capable of, but instead he was the emptiness the guide talked around, in her composed speech on tonnage, meters, numbers.
       Lorenzo does learn more about his mother and her life in Romania, but the figure remains what she always was to him, elusive.
       It's a melancholy novel, but the measured and never plaintive tone keeps it from ever sinking into the maudlin. Beautifully written, If You Kept a Record of Sins reverberates profoundly with the loneliness of its characters -- haunting in the voice of Lorenzo, reaching out to a mother who is no longer -- and never really was -- there.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 March 2021

- Return to top of the page -


If You Kept a Record of Sins: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Italian author Andrea Bajani was born in 1975.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2021 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links