I Give It to You by Valerie Martin

Why do people choose to write, discuss, investigate, study historical periods, times and places unconnected to themselves and to their own heritage, history, country and continent they come from? Why would an Italian have to be annoyed with an American writing about Mussolini decades after World War II? Actually, there shouldn’t be a reason. I, for one, am often annoyed with interpretations of European historical and present time coming from outside Europe when they show fundamental misunderstanding of it, a complete lack of understanding. A good question is: why not? Everybody has the right to write, discuss, investigate and study anything their heart desires.

That is what I found most refreshing about this novel: it’s about an American writer Jen investigating and writing about Italy, its history and present. She has an American perspective on all things: on World War II and life in general. She knows it, she doesn’t try to run away from it. We see things only the way we are able to see things: through our own eyes and through our own perspective. She knows her views might not be authentic and regarded as true, right or equivalent with the views of native Italians, but that isn’t important at all.

That is the same way we tell stories, the way we write fiction. That is a view inherent only to ourselves, a character can not be “false”, it is the way the writer makes it, not the way the person was in reality. Because, fiction is not reality, adding our own way of seeing things, our perspective, our historical, cultural and personal heritage to reality isn’t reality any more.

I Give It to You talks about the process of writing, making reality fiction, the relationship the author has with his “real life” characters. What does stealing somebody’s life mean. What does giving a story of somebody’s life to an author to write about mean exactly and can it be true.

It talks about war, tyranny, fascism, nazism, Italian and German complicated ties during the war, tragic human stories, mental illness, forbidden love, nobility, family, the way families and houses change, live through time together and apart.

Betrayals, politics that always exist in families, the way spouses rarely understand each other, which goes for mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, mothers and sons.

The structure of the novel is a bit confusing, in the beginning it doesn’t seem apparent where the storytelling will go, but in the end it all comes together better than it seemed. We follow Jan, her writing, her fictional stories about Beatrice’s real life, Italian heritage and family history. It is a combination of their dialogues and Jan’s fictional stories that merge into an and into the novel in the end.

I found the descriptions a bit tedious, partly unnecessary, not giving the impression they wanted to give. I have a feeling the whole novel could and should have come together better, needed a bit more work, more coherence and more of a clear idea where it was heading and what the author wanted to do with the idea. In general, it is an interesting novel with a couple of ideas that are food for thought: history, WWII, family dynamics, storytelling, fiction and reality.

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