‘An infinite amount has been written about Venice’, writes the author in his foreword to this stunning debut collection of short stories. ‘If it were not for the fact that the city is sinking into the lagoon of its own accord, it would surely be forced under water, to be washed away, under the weight of the myriads of words attempting to depict it and describe it’.
It is a bold author who, if this is his view of things, is prepared to risk his all in adding still more to the load, but Ulrich Tukur is such a one and he succeeds triumphantly, weaving together the threads of these seemingly autobiographical stories and using Venice, or rather a sort of platonic idea of Venice, as his loom. The characters and situations he describes are fresh and real, while simultaneously managing to be both fantastical and old-fashioned, and range from the quaint and stereotypical to the utterly bizarre and from the historical to the contemporary. Among the things and people featured are fierce, opera-singing puppets, a giant Easter Egg, the narrator’s dog Benny and that animal’s symbolically disintegrating ghost. Then there are the Italians themselves, not only Venetians but also Sicilians and assorted country-dwellers, as well as the narrator and his loved ones, whom one feels one is getting to know increasingly well with each page one turns. Throughout, the reader is never quite sure what to take as fiction and what as fact. The shifting boundary between the two is well summed up in a remark by a certain Loredan, named later on as the narrator’s favourite waiter at his favourite Venetian restaurant but which Tukur sees fit to place at the very beginning of the book and which runs: ‘A lie is a lie, a hundred lies are half a truth’.
From a family heirloom dating from the 1850s to Russian tango-singing of the 1930s and a folk song of the present day, the topics range wide, and the beautiful photographs of Venice itself and of the subjects of each story are an added enhancement. The launch of a golden gondola?