The Caravaggio Syndrome by Alessandro Giardino, translated by Joyce Myerson and Alessandro Giardino

A weird mix between the campus novel, a mediation on motherhood and academia, and a strange time travel-esque adventure, The Caravaggio Syndrome by Alessandro Giardino, translated by Giardino himself and colleague Joyce Myerson, is an odd, somewhat unruly beast. Giardino’s novel covers a lot of ground in 180 pages, moving from 17th century Italy and the work of Tommaso Campanella, to the mid 200s through the mid-2010s, in the United States and Paris. This is also a deeply philosophical novel, bordering on opaque — it’s challenging to follow and challenging to read, because of the complexity, because of the wildly different dialect in which Tommaso Campanella’s passages are written, and because it is focused on the inner worlds of each character.

In a small town in New York State, art history professor Leyla is plodding along, having relocated there from Arizona the year before. She’s been pondering motherhood for a while, but now she’s pregnant, with a fling: university computer technician Pablo, who she doesn’t really like. Pablo is having a secret fling with Michael, one of Leyla’s students. And somehow Leyla’s study of a painting end up linking her to Tommaso Campanella, defying time and space. Much of the book, particularly Leyla’s chapters, are written in short episodes, jumping from time to time, and each chapter changing perspective between Leyla and Michael.

I’m still not entirely certain how I feel about this book. The characters are a bit flat — I found their voices to sound too similar, with the exception of Tommaso. The exploration of self each character goes through is by far the focus, and I would have enjoyed a bit more about the way they all became connected through time. Giardino’s sense of place is excellent, and while Leyla’s choices as an academic seemed a little foolish (leaving a tenure-track job to become a grant-funded archivist at a museum, setting aside the fact for a moment that archives are their own area of study apart from art history), this was an interesting read. I think it would be challenging for many, as the threads of the story take a while to come together, but it’s certainly given me a lot to think about, particularly the way we write about academia.

ALESSANDRO GIARDINO is Chair & Associate Professor of Italian and Francophone Literature at Saint Lawrence University. Born in Naples and currently residing in Montreal, Canada, he studied at the University of Bologna, UC Berkeley, and McGill University. He has written extensively about Caravaggio’s cultural circles, as well as Italian and French literature.
JOYCE MYERSON has had an extensive career in academic and literary translation. She is the translator of numerous books, including the award-winning The Big Score by Irene Grazzini.

Publisher: Rutgers University Press (April 12, 2024)
Paperback 5″ x 8″ | 210 pages
ISBN: 9781978839496 

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Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.

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