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Letter from Casablanca

Antonio Tabucchi

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To Letter from Casablanca

Title: Letter from Casablanca
Author: Antonio Tabucchi
Genre: Stories
Written: 1981 (Eng.: 1986)
Length: 119 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Letter from Casablanca - US
Letter from Casablanca - UK
Letter from Casablanca - Canada
Letter from Casablanca - India
Le Jeu de l'envers - France
Das Umkehrspiel - Deutschland
Il gioco del rovescio - Italia
  • Translated by Janice M. Thresher
  • Italian title: Il gioco del rovescio

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Our Assessment:

B : elusive, melancholy tales, occasionally too clever for their own good

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 24/6/2000 Winfried Wehle
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 17/6/2000 Kru.
The NY Times Book Rev. B- 24/8/1986 Stephen Koch
Die Welt B 13/5/2000 Albrecht Buschmann

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr. Tabucchi's stories are gracefully written (though not too felicitiously translated here), elegantly contrived barriers to the reader's interest. Their voice is confiding and cultivated and has this trait above all: it would rather die than tell us what it is saying." - Stephen Koch, The New York Times Book Review

  • "20 Jahre nach Erscheinen des Originals und unter dem Eindruck der brillanten späteren Bücher hinterlässt die Sammlung einen zwiespältigen Eindruck: Man erkennt Stilmittel und Themen, denen Tabucchi weiter gefolgt ist, doch wirkt die Verrätselung der Wirklichkeit manchmal arg gewollt." - Albrecht Buschmann, Die Welt

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:

       In calling the book Letter from Casablanca and placing the title-piece first the American publishers have -- perhaps appropriately -- played a sort of backwards game with Tabucchi's collection, inverting it. Presented as Il gioco del rovescio (after another story in the collection -- here the last one, translated as "The Backwards Game") the Italian version was more straightforward in suggesting what the reader might find. But then: each translation is a new version, each edition another step in the game, so perhaps this transformation from Il gioco del rovescio into a Letter from Casablanca is exactly what the book and the rules of Tabucchi's game demand.
       "Letter from Casablanca" is likely the most approachable of the stories, and thus a safe choice to begin (and title) the collection with. In it a brother writes a rambling letter to his sister, with whom he has not been in touch for eighteen years. He reminisces about their childhood, and tells of what became of him -- of the transformation he underwent. Cleverly, wistfully recounted it is a moving piece, artfully constructed.
       Many of the characters and narrators in the other tales are also not quite who they seem, as perspectives and voices shift. There are many memories in this collection: narrators recount the past, but often the accounts seem unreliable, shaped and formed into the semi-truths the narrators can live with.
       There are literary games: "The Little Gatsby" shows a playful reality founded in literature, Virginia Woolf and F. Scott Fitzgerald's works as defining and guiding for the characters. In "Theatre" a Portuguese official recounts his time in Mozambique in the 1930s, in one of the darkest corners of the continent of great escape, where he was treated to the unlikely entertainment of Shakespearean performances by an Englishman -- whose true identity he only learns later. "The Backwards Game" itself plays with role-reversals, the possibility of being another, or at least pretending to be -- a desire and ambition of many of the characters in the other stories as well.
       Politics play a role in some of the stories, whether describing colonial Mozambique ("Theatre") or, more complexly, issues of modern revolutionary ideals ("Dolores Ibarruri Sheds Bitter Tears") or capitalism versus culture ("Heavenly Bliss"). In "Dolores Ibarruri Sheds Bitter Tears" a woman speaks of her husband and her son, both idealists. Her husband Rodolfo fought in the Spanish Civil War, "side by side" with the famed La Pasionaria (Dolores Ibarruri), but was ultimately disillusioned by the Soviets. The son, Piticche, was apparently killed by the police, dying for his ideals. In these few pages Tabucchi manages to effectively suggest the complexity of ideological conviction and the consequences. The tragic events are contrasted with the mother's fond memories of the boy's happy childhood, willfully reshaped reality that she now clings to.
       Tabucchi's stories are cleverly constructed, rarely straightforward even when they seem simple. Unreliable narrators abound, though truth does seem finally to take shape in the denouement of nearly each of the pieces. Sometimes the stories are too clever, too obviously contrived simply for effect. In these early stories Tabucchi is not always able to cloak his ideas in art, trying too hard to fashion clever pieces.
       Letter from Casablanca is a worthwhile collection, but it requires some effort and patience. These are not smooth and simple reads as, ideally, they should be -- deceptively so -- if a true craftsman had created them. In this collection Tabucchi is still, too often, a bit lumbering. (The translation, too, is not the smoothest, which doesn't help matters.)
       Worthwhile, but the reader should know to expect to do some work to fully enjoy the stories.

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Letter from Casablanca: Reviews: Antonio Tabucchi: Other books by Antonio Tabucchi under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Italian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Italian author Antonio Tabucchi lived 1943 to 2012.

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