I shed a tear as I finished The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi, an Italian writer whose books keep winning prestigious Italian book prizes. Veronesi’s writing was new to me and that, it seems, has been a mistake. The life story of ophthalmologist Marco Carrera had warmth, humanity, universal truths and provided the perfect holiday read.
In letters, transcripts of telephone conversations, emails and narrative we piece together Marco’s life. It can be slightly confusing at first as Veronesi jumps back and forth in time, but slowly a picture emerges. Marco’s life is both extraordinary and ordinary. We recognise ourselves in his dreams, triumphs, lost loves, conflicts and disappointments, although his share of bad luck probably dwarfs most of us.
It’s the way Marco deals with it all that is so endearing and hence his nickname, the hummingbird, a bird which famously stays stationary in the air while in flight. As the world and people’s lives change around him, Marco stays put, providing the stability that’s so sorely needed.
The fact is, when things change it’s easy to see that they change for a reason, but it’s not as easy to understand that there’s a reason things stay the way they are, too. This is because we’ve been glorifying change for such a long time now..
In times when the world is moving as fast as it does now, The Hummingbird book offers a little breather; a warm, contemplative story that somehow communicates the life affirming spirit of the Italians. What this book lacks in nuance (do people as flawless as Miraijin really exist?), it makes up for in charm and storytelling.
The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi translated by Elena Pala is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 304 pages.