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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Force of the Past

Sandro Veronesi

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To purchase The Force of the Past

Title: The Force of the Past
Author: Sandro Veronesi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2000 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 230 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: The Force of the Past - US
The Force of the Past - UK
The Force of the Past - Canada
The Force of the Past - India
La Force du passé - France
Sein anderes Leben - Deutschland
La forza del passato - Italia
  • Italian title: La forza del passato
  • Translated by Alastair McEwen
  • La forza del passato was made into a film in 2002, directed by Piergiorgio Gay and starring Sergio Rubini and Bruno Ganz

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Our Assessment:

B : clever and occasionally engrossing, but ultimately too introspective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 16/6/2003 Toby Clements
FAZ A 5/12/2001 Klara Obermüller
The Guardian . 7/6/2003 Michael Dibdin
The Guardian . 21/2/2004 Elena Seymenliyska
The Independent . 26/8/2003 Paula Cocozza
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 17/1/2002 Maike Albath
Sunday Telegraph . 18/5/2003 Christopher Tayler

  Review Consensus:

  Pretty good

  From the Reviews:
  • "Gianni is a likeable and sophisticated character with a bleak sense of humour, and much of the self-searching is conducted in amusing asides. (...) This is a striking novel, cleverly constructed and full of atmospheric detail." - Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph

  • "Sandro Veronesis Roman Sein anderes Leben ist kein Thriller ohne Auflösung, sondern die Geschichte einer Identitätskrise. (...) Es ist nicht die Geschichte an sich, die dieses Buch so faszinierend macht. Es ist die Art und Weise, wie sie uns erzählt wird: rasch, leicht, witzig, voller Selbstironie, direkt, unprätentiös, in einem wie selbstverständlich daherkommenden Plauderton, als säßen wir mit dem Autor in einem römischen Café und er ließe uns wissen, was ihn gerade bewegt." - Klara Obermüller, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It must be said that this translation is far from transparent, slipping uneasily between US usage (...) and Brit (...) These may seem like quibbles, but in a narrative about someone on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the last thing you need is the language breaking down too. But there are more substantial problems. (...) The Force of the Past reads more like recent Tim Parks, only without the genuine edge of desperation. Its promising premise is frittered away and its resolution feels contrived." - Michael Dibdin, The Guardian

  • "It brings a heady aroma of fried mozzarella, bitter espresso and scooters. The prose has an equally dizzying effect, alternating between first-person narrative, stream of consciousness and children's storybook, punctuated by digressions on cold war espionage, Hollywood and Italian rotisseries." - Elena Seymenliyska, The Guardian

  • "The convergence of memory and imagination, and the imposition of order through recollection, are important themes in this, Veronesi's first novel to be translated into English." - Paula Cocozza, The Indepenent

  • "The Force of the Past is an entertaining book, with some good jokes and some cleverly framed excursions into literary pastiche. The big themes of memory, reality and Other People are handled lightly and thoughtfully, and there also seems to be a political subtext (...) Alastair McEwen's translation of Veronesi's novel is occasionally flat-footed, and the proofreaders haven't done a very good job. But the book is still an urbane and unusual read, with a quirky and very likeable narrative voice." - Christopher Tayler, Sunday Telegraph

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.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Force of the Past is narrated by Gianni Orzan, a prize-winning author of children's books. The story begins shortly after his father's death, when the appearance of a stranger challenges pretty much everything he knew. But Gianni is up for the challenge: he's one self-doubting and confused protagonist, and what he learns from the stranger fits nicely into the picture of an uncertain world that seems to have been forming in Gianni's mind anyway.
       The stranger -- also named Gianni, though he seems to go by a variety of family names -- makes an incredible claim: Gianni's father was not the reactionary Italian he had always appeared to be, but rather a Russian spy, a sleeper since World War II. And this other Gianni claims to have been his best friend and colleague in espionage. He knows a lot about Gianni's father, and Gianni too, but despite the mounting evidence the author is reluctant to believe him. It's just too absurd and unbelievable.
       Throughout the book, however, Gianni notices that foundations aren't very secure. From friends revealing their true opinions behind his back to his wife's straying, people aren't always who they seem to be -- and certainly don't always speak the truth. Indeed, he realises he's oblivious to much of the world around him (most obviously when he is involved in an accident, having missed a sign that he should have noticed years earlier).
       The Force of the Past cleverly addresses issues of memory and imagination, with a great many references to books and, in particular, film. Gianni quotes and remembers scenes as references -- it's one of the ways he interprets the world--; tellingly, he often gets it wrong. Gianni is also something of a fraud as a writer, with one character seeing through his method:

     "Yes, you are a really good children's writer," she continued, "because it seems to me you don't write, you translate. You fish around in places where children don't go, and then you translate into their language the fine things that don't concern them. Our memories, the cinema, Leopardi, rock music ... Isn't that so ?"
       It is:
I have never invented anything, I merely copied, I merely recycled all the things I liked in life. Rock, Shakespeare, Beckett, American films, psychedelia, Leopardi -- precisely -- even Pasolini
       Art provides more stability -- though interpretation can change -- but the great shifts in his reality are deeply unsettling to him. He uses these experiences in his new book, too -- art as the only way to come to grips with it -- but it's not easy for him to get a handle on them.
       Veronesi offers a well-constructed novel, with a decent thriller-touch to it -- the second Gianni is a nicely threatening sort of figure (in all senses of the expression) -- though some of the episodes are too obvious, too neat a fit. And, ultimately, the narrator's relentless introspection gets to be fairly annoying as well. It's a decent read, for the most part, but not entirely satisfying.

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The Force of the Past: Reviews: La forza del passato - the film: Other books by Sandro Veronesi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Sandro Veronesi was born in 1959.

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© 2006-2022 the complete review

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