Enchantments, originally published in Italy (1997) under the title Incantesimi, is Linda Ferri’s debut novel. Told in a series of 25 short vignettes, it is narrated by an unnamed Italian girl in the style of a memoir, from the toddler to early teen years. The narrator and her family move from Italy to Paris during the opening scene of this small novel. What follows is an intimate tale of a family whose dynamics are illuminated through summers in Italy, a visit to America and winters in Paris.
Making a cohesive whole out of such a small book is a challenge for any author, but to carry it out in a debut novel and have it result in such a strong voice is a trademark of a gifted new author. Everything about this book is intimate, from the size of the book (measuring only 7.4” x 4.7”) to the length of each vignette to the fact that the narrator is never named, although the reader learns the names of all her family members.
Ferri captures the dreamy sense of wonder that permeates a child’s life. She uses language to tantalize the reader, drawing one into the world she has created. “…so the fear dissolved, reduced to a bit of a mystery I carried in my pocket when I made a foray up to the attic or down to the cellar.” Alone the words don’t have much meaning, but the feeling they evoke is of being privy to a private world and language, one inhabited by a creative child who enjoys making words dance and play.
The distinct chapter titles also add to the dream-like state engendered by this novella. Titles such as “the castrator,” “perfidy” or “dame dame” add to the mystery, impelling the reader to journey with Ferri just a little longer until, suddenly, the narration ends and the reader is shaken rudely awake.
Woven throughout the vignettes is the narrator’s dynamic relationship with her father. She loves him, fears him, is embarrassed by him, and even though she is fond of him, she “would like him better if he were a woman.” Here too, in describing these moments of tension, Ferri’s masterful use of language is present. “…and I know the chain has snapped: he’s not barking anymore, he’s ready to bite.” Seen through the eyes of a child, this novel provides masterful insight into a marriage created by two volatile personalities.
Originally published in Italian, Linda Ferri did her own translation for the French edition. For this English edition she called upon John Casey, one of the pupils she tutored in Italian. Casey (whose first translation was Alessandro Boffa’s You’re such an Animal Viskovitz! - Knopf, 2002) is a gifted translator – he has maintained Ferri’s distinctive voice and playfulness of language yet provided a work that flows as gracefully as if it was written in English.
In her other life, Ferri writes screenplays and this has definitely influenced her stylistically. Her use of language in Enchantments has a cinegraphic quality, painting pictures in the mind of the long, hot summer days of childhood when the worst that could happen was stubbing a toe.