Twice Born: A Novel

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This international bestseller is a sweeping portrait of motherhood, loss, and redemption in war-torn Sarajevo.

Filled with memories of the four-year siege of Sarajevo, Gemma reluctantly boards a flight from her native Rome to that war-scarred city with her sixteen-year-old son, Pietro. She hopes to teach her son about the city of his birth and about Diego, the father he never knew. Once there Gemma is caught between the present and the past, reliving her love affair with Diego, ...

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Twice Born: A Novel (Movie Tie-In)

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Overview

This international bestseller is a sweeping portrait of motherhood, loss, and redemption in war-torn Sarajevo.

Filled with memories of the four-year siege of Sarajevo, Gemma reluctantly boards a flight from her native Rome to that war-scarred city with her sixteen-year-old son, Pietro. She hopes to teach her son about the city of his birth and about Diego, the father he never knew. Once there Gemma is caught between the present and the past, reliving her love affair with Diego, their determination to start a family, and their deep connection to Sarajevo even as the threat of war loomed.

In this haunting and sophisticated novel, Mazzantini masterfully probes the startling emotional territory of what makes a family-particularly what makes a mother. As the fate of Sarajevo converges with Gemma's all-consuming desire to have a child we see how far she is driven, in a stunning revelation that is both heartbreaking and cathartic.

Brought to life by an unforgettable cast of characters, Twice Born is a tale of the acts of brutality and generosity that war can inspire. A blockbuster bestseller in Mazzantini's native Italy, it has taken Europe by storm and will soon be published around the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Mazzantini's eloquent second novel translated into English (after Don't Move), Italian grad student Gemma travels to Sarajevo when it is still part of Yugoslavia for her doctoral thesis. Gojko, a maniacal Bosnian yo-yo salesman and poet, is her guide, and on the day she is to return to her fiancé in Rome, Gojko introduces her to Diego, an impulsive, young Italian photographer from Genoa with a criminal and heroin-using past, and they spend one impassioned night together. Gemma marries, divorces; she and Diego come together in Italy and marry as the situation in the Balkans begins to deteriorate while the couple suffer their own torment trying to conceive a child. Their efforts to have a child result in convoluted relationships arranged by Gojko in Sarajevo, where they return, years later, as the city is falling apart. Gemma returns alone to Rome with a boy, born in Sarajevo. She names him Pietro and raises him as her son with a new husband, Giuliano, after Diego's death. Twenty-four years after her fateful meeting with Diego, Gemma travels again to Sarajevo and into her past, wanting to show Pietro the country of his birth and where his father died. Mazzantini expertly weaves together her characters' stories, jumping backwards and forwards in time and place, from Italy to Sarajevo as the brutality of the Bosnian war melds with the beauty and complexity of Gemma and Diego's passionate romance. If the loose ends tie up too easily in the final chapters, a captivating secret maintains the story's integrity. Mazzantini's haunting novel, beautifully written and skillfully crafted, proves that despite the hatred exposed by war, love persists, and even flourishes. (May)
Kirkus Reviews

The siege of Sarajevo is both subject and backdrop in this multilayered love story from Italian Mazzantini (Don't Move, 2004, etc.).

Gemma leaves her comfortable apartment in Rome (and her understanding husband Giuliano) to visit Sarajevo with her son Pietro because an exhibit commemorating the siege will include photographs by Pietro's father Diego. Sixteen years earlier, Gemma escaped war-torn Sarajevo with infant Pietro while Diego remained behind and later died. Now as middle-aged Gemma uses the visit to repair her relationship with Pietro, whose extreme adolescent disaffection has unnerved her, she also confronts her youthful past. Graduate student Gemma first met and fell in love with Diego, a bohemian photographer from Genoa, while visiting Sarajevo in the 1980s. Poet and Sarajevo tourist guide Gojko, himself more than half in love with Gemma, threw the two together. After many upheavals, including Gemma's marriage and divorce from a conventional Roman businessman, the two lovers found passionate, if temporary happiness. They desperately wanted children, but Gemma learned she could not conceive, and Diego's police record ruled out adoption as an option. They decided to look for a surrogate. While they were back in Sarajevo on what they thought would be a vacation, Gojko put them in touch with a young musician named Aska who wanted money to escape. Unfortunately, the unrest was beginning by then and the doctor they paid to implant the eggs disappeared. Gemma pushed Diego and Aska to conceive "naturally" but then was besieged by guilt and jealousy—just as Sarajevo was besieged and torn apart; Mazzantini brings the Bosnian civil war to violent life. Looking back, Gemma still wonders if she exchanged Diego for her baby. Only now, learning the truth of Pietro's conception, does she begin to understand the full magnitude of loss that occurred, and the horror as well as the redemptive power of love.

Too bad the overly packed novel's repetitiveness may lose some readers because Mazzantini's depictions of love, maternal and romantic, are powerfully raw.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670022687
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/12/2011
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 9.08 (w) x 6.22 (h) x 1.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Margaret Mazzantini lives in Rome with her husband and four children. Twice Born won Italy’s Premio Campiello. Her previous novel Don’t Move sold 1.5 million copies in Italy, won the Premio Strega and became a feature film directed by her husband, Sergio Castellitto and starring Penelope Cruz.

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Read an Excerpt

After the rain, the snails come out. They push their slimy boneless bodies out of their shells as they move along. After the rain, the inhabitants of Sarajevo go foraging in the treeless fields amidst tangles of iron and fresh mounds of earth. They bend over furtively, excitedly, to pick up the shiny little creatures. It’s been months since they last ate meat. Then it rained, and today the women smile and unpack their treasure in their empty kitchens. The children smile at the sight of the snails climbing on and falling off the table. Like the others, Velida came home with a bag full of snails that she’d gathered secretly, in an isolated park, because she was ashamed for others to see her hunger.

We dip our bread in the pan. A slightly cloying odor fills the kitchen. Snails cooked in Turkish spices, Bosnian vinegar and broth from the humanitarian packages. A delicacy.

Later Velida will blame this too-good food for having restored a happiness they hadn’t felt for a long time, a misleading and harmful happiness.

Jovan’s eyes were shiny, and there was a bit of color in his cheeks after months of rough grey skin.

After he finished eating, he lit a cigarette from a package Diego had given him. Drinas that they wrap now in pages taken from books because there’s no more paper. Naturally, they started with books in Cyrillic. Jovan was sorry to see his culture going up in smoke, but how could he refrain from having a cigarette after a real luxury like a plate of snails?

Jovan went out when it was silent again, when Velida resumed chopping nettles and the good smell of the snails had disappeared forever.

He hadn’t been out for months. He dressed to the nines in his wool vest, a wide tie and his old kippah on his head. He picked up the bag he’d used as a professor and said he felt good and that he was going out for a walk.

Unreal words in that ghost city, in those houses without lights, without glass, the best furniture sold and the worst pieces chopped to bits for burning.

“Where are you going, Jovan?”

“I’m going to the university.”

Velida didn’t have the courage to stop him. She’d always respected her husband’s wishes, and it hardly seemed the time to treat him as if he were under house arrest. She simply tried to tell him that the university had been shelled like all the other important buildings. Jovan nodded.

“I’m going to go see if there’s anything to be done.”

“It’s dangerous.”

He smiled and came out with an old Yiddish proverb. If a man is fated to drown, he may die in a teaspoon of water.

It was too late when Velida came to knock at my door, when it was already dark and past curfew and Jovan had been gone for hours. She wasn’t crying, but her head trembled more than usual.

She was worried but still courageous. She had done the right thing.

Today, on a mid-November day, after a meal of snails and two glasses of homemade brandy made with rice from the humanitarian aid packages, the elderly Jovan—a Serbian Jew from Sarajevo, a biologist whose field of expertise was freshwater species and who had spent his entire life studying the evolution of oligochaetes and of unicellular flagellate algae—went out to take a glance at the wreckage of his city, at the destruction of his species, the peaceful species comprised of the Muslims, Serbs, Croatians and Jews of Sarajevo.

The dark ate away at Velida’s memory lined face. She had no regrets. If Jovan had felt the need to go, it was right that he had gone.

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