Excerpt from Vita by Melania G. Mazzucco, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Vita by Melania G. Mazzucco X
Vita by Melania G. Mazzucco
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 448 pages
    Sep 2006, 448 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

My Desert Places

This place is no longer a place, this landscape no longer a landscape. Not a blade of grass remains, no stalk of wheat, no bush, no hedge of prickly pear. The captain looks around for the lemon and orange trees Vita used to talk to him about, but he doesn't see a single tree. Everything is burned. He stumbles in grenade holes, gets entangled in shrubs of barbed wire. This is where the well should be—but the wells are all poisoned now, rotting with the bodies of the Scottish fusiliers killed in the first assault on the hill. Or maybe they were Germans. Or civilians. There is a smell of ash, of petrol, of death. He must be careful because the path is strewn with unexploded bombs, lying right in the middle of the road like big-bellied carcasses. Dozens of empty cartridges, useless rifles. Rusted bazookas, 88-mm stovepipes, long since abandoned and already overgrown with weeds. Dead donkeys blown up like balloons. Clusters of bullets like goat droppings. Bones stripped of flesh stick out of the dirt. The captain covers his mouth with his handkerchief. No, it can't be. My God, it wasn't supposed to be this way.

The road to Tufo is cluttered with burned-out vehicles. Motorbikes trucks cars. Bullets have opened dozens of eyes in the doors, the wheels are reduced to scrap iron. Heaps of wreckage appear in front of him. As he gets closer, he realizes they're tanks. He passes them warily, as if they were a monument to defeat. He's not sure if they are the Churchills they lost in January or the Tigers the Germans lost the first time they abandoned the village. He climbs over the wing of a plane—intact, severed clean, the Luftwaffe symbol still visible. Its cabin lies exploded in the valley below. Finally he sees a tree: the first—or last. He quickens his step, his soldiers trudging along behind. It's hot and the sun is already high. What's gotten into you, Captain? Take it easy. It's an olive tree—completely incinerated, black as ink. It crumbles in his fingers. The cloud of dust makes his eyes water despite his Ray-Bans. Or maybe it's the smoke rising off the stones. Those smoking stones strike him more than anything else he has seen so far. His thoughts flow uncontrollably. Suddenly he has the feeling of having reached the place that was destined for him.

On the slope an emaciated old man approaches him. His hair is crusted with dust, his gaze glassy. He passes the captain as if he were a phantom. As if he weren't there. The captain is sweating in his uniform, and wipes his forehead with his palm. His men slow down, start joking around. They're young, recent arrivals sent to fill in the gaps on the southern front. But he knows why he's here, and he knows he is late. He should have come earlier, he really should have. But every now and then he was assailed by fragmented and involuntary images of memories not his own, vexing somehow, like the residue of a dream. They harked back to a lost and incomprehensible land populated by individuals with alien, remote faces, and the fear of having his estrangement confirmed had kept him far away. In the end, though, he'd come. They had entered other towns on top of their tanks—and to the sound of applause. But here the road is blocked, and they arrive on foot. His pockets are full of gifts, even though he's ashamed of bringing them, for his arrival also brings dust, destruction, and noise. The smoke clears; a stone wall emerges. So this was the spot. This, the first house of the village. But it is no longer a house—behind the wall the ground falls away. "That one came down in January," the old man mumbles. Or at least that's what the captain thinks he said because he can't really understand him. The old man studies the captain's uniform, the stripes on his epaulettes. Only twenty-four and already a captain. But the old man is not impressed. When the captain holds out a pack of Lucky Strikes, the old man shrinks away and disappears behind a heap of ruins. Could he be his grandfather?

Excerpted from Vita by Melania G. Mazzucco. Copyright © 2003 by Melania G. Mazzucco. Translation © 2005 by Virginia Jewiss. Published in September 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Black Leopard, Red Wolf
    Black Leopard, Red Wolf
    by Marlon James
    If you are looking for an indulgent, escapist fantasy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf may not be for you. ...
  • Book Jacket: That Time I Loved You
    That Time I Loved You
    by Carianne Leung
    Carrianne Leung was a Toronto Book Award finalist for That Time I Loved You as well as for her debut...
  • Book Jacket: The Pianist from Syria
    The Pianist from Syria
    by Aeham Ahmad
    Aeham Ahmad became famous as the face of Syrian suffering when a photo of him playing piano in the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Smiling Man
    The Smiling Man
    by Joseph Knox
    Joseph Knox's latest turns on a simple premise: an unidentified and unidentifiable murdered man is ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A People's History of Heaven
    by Mathangi Subramanian

    A story of love and friendship, and fighting for the places we love.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Year of the War
    by Susan Meissner

    A little-known story of WWII with great resonance for our times.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
Girls Burn Brighter
by Shobha Rao

An extraordinary and heart-rending tale of two girls with all the odds against them.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win The Summer Country

Win up to 12 copies to share with friends or your book club!

A sweeping epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

D T T! Full S A!

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.