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If you read my last diary, you know that I am amazed at how many published authors inhabit the pages of Daily Kos. I have made it my mission to read at least some of these books and review them here. I say 'mission', but that is not entirely accurate, 'mission' somehow implies effort, or sacrifice, but so far my 'mission' has been nothing but pleasure.

Today I offer you my humble review of Rachel Vogelsang's Racheltracks.


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[Edited to replace 'xyz' in the first sentence with 'inhabit'. I could not think of what word I wanted there and was using 'xyz' as a placeholder.]


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Street view from the square next to Santa Croce Florence

I thought it was Joyce, or perhaps Italo Svevo, who said something to the effect. “if you could tell the entirety of anyone's life, it would be the greats story ever told.” I couldn't find the quote, and I am pretty sure it is because I mangled the thought so badly. But, here in this book, RachelTracks, we have a slice of just that. She tells the truth, often brutally honest truth, of a life.

Rachel tells it all, even when the telling is extremely hard. She puts down on paper what others spend their whole life hiding

What does it mean to be grown up? Does your Mother love you? Does your daughter know that you love her, even when the scars on her wrists are a wounded to your heart that might not ever heal?

But I get ahead of myself.

Here is a brief summary.

I can't do justice to her book by telling it all, so I will just focus on a very few aspect.

A thirty-six years and six months old American expatriate living in a twelfth century building in Florence Italy in the early 1980's learns that her daughter, her first born, has attempted suicide in her childhood home of Georgia. Living thousands of miles away from the Merica, and with little money her thoughts drift into an examination of her life. With almost feverish worry, images of her daughter's wrists and her past haunt her thoughts. Outwardly no one notices as she makes plans for a party with country music playing in the background. The party is a success.

From time to time her fleet Israeli lover finds his way from German to her bed. But it is an open relationship. “He comes when he comes (no pun intended) and goes when he goes and if I am here when comes or there when he goes it's okay with him.”

But how to get to the Merica to see her daughter? She can model for artists, and clean houses, but it is not enough, so she must sell her china cabinet and antique bed - the bed that she and her husband, and perhaps soon to be ex-husband, bought.

She writes these thoughts from her desk overlooking the church of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo is buried and Dante is not.

Here is a theme. She is exiled much like Dante was while living in the city of Michelangelo. She wants to be Jewish, and reads about the Holocaust, perhaps because she feels she has not suffered enough, but more likely, because she must do penance for her sins.

What are her sins? For starters she was raped. Not once, but twice. As she looks out on Santa Croce, where Michelangelo is buried and Dante is not, she tells the difficult stories, first of her father and later of a Black man in Georgia who rape her. For years she has a fear of Black people, but they have dimmed in Florence. Guilt. Sin. Sometimes when you are the victim, you fell like you are the sinner.

I do it too. All those past sins. I don't know what level of Hell Dante is at now, but I wish he would quit visiting me at night.

She lives, she loves, she buys vegetables from the market and makes calls from the bar down stairs because she does not have a phone -  in her 12th century Florence house with no hot water. Finally she gets the money she needs to go to the Merica, and brings her daughter back. The story of what happens in the Merica comes out only slowly, and only after the fact, once she is back in Florence. She can not write in the Merica. She no longer fits in the Merica where everyone is superficial and in a rush. In Florence she has no watch nor clock. The church bells tell her when it is time to get up and also warn her when the shops will soon be closing, that is all she needs.

She and he daughter get to know each other again. But they are broke. They gather scrapes of wood for heat and eat pasta and garlic for dinner. At one point they are forced to resort to begging. Oddly enough, this is one of the happiest and funniest parts of the book.

As I said earlier I can't tell the whole story, but there is a moment in the story that caught my attention. One of those small things in a book that you almost miss. One of those little things that end up being the most telling. She moves her writing desk. No longer is it looking over Santa Croce where Michelangelo is buried and Dante is not. It is on an inside wall as she writes the last pages. Much like Bloom jumping over the fence in Ulysses, she is no longer an exile.

Is this a coming of age story of the thirty year old woman? No, because at the end she is thirty-seven and two months and twenty-five days old - and is still waiting to grow up.

I enjoyed this book muchly. ;)

Originally posted to se portland on Sun Apr 07, 2013 at 10:52 AM PDT.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers, House of LIGHTS, and Community Spotlight.

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