Things That Happened Before The Earthquake: A Novel by Chiara Barzini

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“How could my father become rich and famous if he surrounded himself with cheapness?”

The beauty of this novel is that Eugenia and her family are foreigners with stars in there eyes, ready to have success in America as filmmakers. The stars act as blinders to the reality of their situation and forges trust in people that aren’t quite who they say they are.  That her parents are ‘sort of hippies’ is evident in the openness of the household, not always exposing their kids to the best people in order to make their film. Eugenia is not your typical American kid, and being torn from her homeland Italy and plopped down in San Fernando Valley trying to fit in with dangerous kids in her public school isn’t the Hollywood life she imagined. Before she finds friendship with Henry, she has secret encounters with Arash, a Persian student who ‘sort of’ protects her. The fact she is warned against telling anyone about their time together exposes the hungry desperation Eugenia feels at school, she goes along with it welcoming the sexual trysts. But in a place where gangs face off, and boys prove themselves anytime someone ‘steps up’ something tragic is bound to happen. When tragedy strikes, she becomes enthralled with Deva- a young girl truly living a hippy existence with her father and brother.  Deva is a child of communes and music, Eugenia falls in love with every cell of her being, thrown off by  Deva’s strange bond with her  controlling father. Forced to work on his music, the lines between love and abuse blur and Eugenia isn’t really sure what she knows or understands about Deva. While her own parents struggle to make a film, failing miserably, she is far more invested in becoming a part of Deva’s world.

In part two, Eugenia and her brother return home to the most isolated island of the Aeolian archipelago for a visit, while their parents try to recover from the difficulties of their first year in California. This was my favorite part of the entire novel, though there is brutality, cruelty in the relationship between the island’s handyman Santino and his wife Rosalia. The carefree nudity, the ‘rough island living’ made me feel like I was there. The friendship Eugenia strikes up with Rosalia by bringing her newfound “Americanism” into their household is a catalyst for danger and violence. Too, there is charm about the island, the descriptions of the land and water, and the locals set a gorgeous mood. You could almost smell the salty air and feel the cool water. It’s a strange see saw effect, because the reader is lulled by the ocean and horrified with the simmering tensions. It feels like another novel, and it follows because going from Italy to California may as well be another life entirely. Part Two serves as a look at the changes taking place within Eugenia, you never return home the same as when you left. Her perception of her own culture changes after a short time in America.

Every character has issues, whether of the physical or emotional sort. There are a lot of awkward moments of hungry, humiliating desperation to either fit in or be loved. Eugenia’s parent’s dream seems to be sinking the family, and Eugenia is lost on the chaos of the confusion, coming of age, trying to figure out who she is, how to love, what future she longs for without much guidance. Being that her family chooses to come to America and make their film after the violent riots in Los Angeles gives a strange effect to the story. There is a lot happening here, normally it would make for a messy novel but instead it contributes to the confusion Eugenia feels adjusting to her life in America. They are all on shaky ground before the big earthquake. When the quake finally occurs the question is, what can Eugenia take from the rubble of her life? This was really good, it’s more than just an Italian family taking on Hollywood. It’s a desperate coming of age with sexual complications. Add this to your reading list, it won’t be available until August.

Publication Date: August 15, 2017

Doubleday Books

 

 

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