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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Discovery of Dawn

Walter Veltroni

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To purchase The Discovery of Dawn

Title: The Discovery of Dawn
Author: Walter Veltroni
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 140 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Discovery of Dawn - US
The Discovery of Dawn - UK
The Discovery of Dawn - Canada
La découverte de l'aube - French
  • Italian title: La scoperta dell'alba
  • Translated by Douglas R. Hofstadter

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit of a reach, in all respects

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Discovery of Dawn is narrated by Giovanni Astengo, an archivist who has always been fascinated by personal records, especially diaries. His job at the National Archives is to: "collect, catalogue, read, and summarize the diaries that my peers never cease producing". While he has focussed on other people's lives he has, however, not fully come to terms with his own. He's in a sort of mid-life crisis: there's little spark left in his marriage, he has a daughter, Stella, with Down's syndrome, and his son Lorenzo is taciturn and shut-off from the world (though he takes good care of his much younger sister).
       Giovanni is clearly still marked by the disappearance of his father in 1977, when he was a young boy. His father was an academic, and he disappeared shortly after the murder of a colleague in those turbulent years. Now Giovanni heads out to his family's old summer place, picks up the ancient bakelite phone that's still there, and dials some numbers. And when he dials the telephone number from his childhood home his younger self picks up the phone .....
       Yes, "I realized that I was heading into the twilight zone", he acknowledges, but for such a silly plot device Veltroni handles it about as well as one might hope for. And so his character finds:

     So I was speaking with myself. For some reason this old telephone line had made a connection not across space but across time.
       Pretending to be his own Uncle Giorgio he finds himself talking to his younger self during those days in 1977 when his father disappeared. He calls daily and prods his younger self to look into the mystery of the disappearance, to see if there were any clues he hadn't recognised when he was a boy.
       The absurdity of the premise makes it hard to take the story very seriously, but the mystery does hold some interest -- and the denouement, though somewhat underdeveloped, is certainly satisfying. Meanwhile, however, Veltroni also has other family issues to deal with, including Lorenzo generously volunteering to take his sister to the United States on a trip and then finding that he's in way over his head.
       The family-scenes would be more convincing if Veltroni didn't try so hard to capture youth today, which leads him put words into Lorenzo's mouth that include:
Why do you think my door is always closed ? It's because I'm scared of opening it, scared of your silences and of the sounds of the world. You always wondered why I don't read the newspapers and don't watch the news on TV. For one simple reason: it frightens me. It reminds me of an oil slick that's gradually spreading over all of reality.
And by the way, Papà, have you noticed that young people of my age live their lives with earphones on ? They use them whenever they take even the shortest walk, stroll at night, or meet up together. They don't want to let the times they're living in drive them crazy. Today we've been deprived of every hope that we might share, and we've been shut up in a gleaming supermarket where you can buy anything you want but you can't ever get out.
       Little of this sounds very authentic; most of it sounds like what some old geezer thinks the life of them young folk is like nowadays .....
       The Discovery of Dawn is a short, fairly fast read, but Veltroni packs too much in. His absurd connection-with-the-past premise is already a huge burden for the book to handle, and when he tries to do so much else it all begins to feel pretty thinly spread. Still, a passable little read.

       The translation -- by Gödel, Escher, Bach -author Douglas R. Hofstadter -- reads well enough for the most part, but there are some curious choices, beginning with the second sentence, which reads:
Ever since my biological clock started regularly waking up at daybreak, I've been charting the various types of dawns.
       Surely, 'biological clock' can no longer be usefully used in this sense .....
       And possibly it's a true-to-the-Italian translation, but this also strikes us as awful:
But dawn has no dignity. Neither encyclopedias not Google give it the time of day.
       And that's just on the first page .....

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The Discovery of Dawn: Reviews: Walter Veltroni: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Walter Veltroni was born in 1955. He is the mayor of Rome and leader of the Italian Democratic Party.

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