January 25, 2022

The Hummingbird

By Sandro Veronesi, translated by Elena Pala
Review by
The complicated characters in Sandro Veronesi’s novel don’t always behave nobly and are, from a literary standpoint, the richer for it.
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When one looks back upon a life, one remembers it as a series of noncontiguous fragments, with each discrete moment forming a picture of a person. Italian writer Sandro Veronesi knows this instinctively. In The Hummingbird, he presents just such a puzzle to create a unique portrait of an enigma of a man.

In a narrative that moves through seven decades, from 1959 to 2030, Veronesi chronicles the life of Marco Carrera, an ophthalmologist in the Italian village of Bolgheri. His mother nicknamed him “the hummingbird” because, until age 14, he was worryingly shorter than his peers. But Marco resembles a hummingbird not just in his childhood stature but also, as one character puts it, “because all [his] energy is spent keeping still.”

Nevertheless, much happens to this supposedly fixed entity. The book starts in 1999, when a therapist who has been treating Marco’s wife, Marina, risks his career to tell Marco, “I have reason to believe you may be in grave danger.”

In chapters that incorporate text messages, emails, phone conversations, love letters and even poetry, Veronesi describes the events that shape Marco’s life, including his and his wife’s infidelities; his five-decade correspondence with a woman he loved since he was 20; the death of Marco’s sister and his estrangement from his brother; the difficulties facing his daughter, Adele, who met with a child psychologist when she was little because she felt she had a restrictive thread attached to her back; and Marco’s later guardianship of Adele’s daughter, Miraijin.

The Hummingbird is a moving, black-humored work about family and the tragedies born of time and poor decisions. Veronesi has created complicated characters that don’t always behave nobly, are products of their time and are, from a literary standpoint, the richer for it. As the omniscient narrator observes, “There are those who—not moving at all—still manage to cover great distances.” That’s the message of this wise book: A hummingbird may seem stationary, but in its way, it can cover a lot of ground.

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The Hummingbird

The Hummingbird

By Sandro Veronesi
ISBN 9780063158559

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