Review: “White as Silence, Red as Song” by Alessandro D’Avenia

36911793Title: White a Silence, Red as Song

Author: Alessandro D’Avenia

Translated by: Tabitha Sowden

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Publication Date: September 4, 2018

Rating: ⭐⭐

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(ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley)

A teen-aged boy’s self-discovery amidst illness and death is the focus of this translated coming-of-age novel by Alessandro D’Avenia.

Leo is an ordinary sixteen-year-old: he loves hanging out with his friends, playing soccer, and zipping around on his motorbike. The time he has to spend at school is a drag, and his teachers are “a protected species that you hope will become extinct,” so when a new history and philosophy teacher arrives, Leo greets him with his usual antipathy. But this young man turns out to be different. His eyes sparkle when he talks, and he encourages his students to live passionately, and follow their dreams.

Leo now feels like a lion, as his name suggests, but there is still one thing that terrifies him: the color white. White is absence; everything related to deprivation and loss in his life is white. Red, on the other hand, is the color of love, passion and blood; red is the color of Beatrice’s hair. Leo’s dream is a girl named Beatrice, the prettiest in school. Beatrice is irresistible – one look from her is enough to make Leo forget about everything else.

There is, however, a female presence much closer to Leo, which he finds harder to see because she’s right under his nose: the ever-dependable and serene Silvia. When he discovers that Beatrice has leukemia and that her disease is related to the white that scares him so much, Leo is forced to search within himself, to bleed and to be reborn. In the process, he comes to understand that dreams must never die, and he finds the strength to believe in something bigger than himself.

I cannot tell you how eager I was for this book. It was dubbed as The Fault of Our Stars of Italy, and that alone got my attention. Add to that a very enticing blurb, and it won me over, so I requested it.

Sadly, White as Silence, Red as Song didn’t quite measure up to its potential.

The story follows and is told by 16-year old Leo. He’s witty and sarcastic: a typical teen-aged boy who, by all means, does typical teen-aged boy stuff – school, soccer, dare contests with his friend Niko, music. Reading from his perspective was a quart amusing, and annoying and just plain tiring for the rest of the way. Leo is really immature though he pretends to be all-knowing. He throws around these big words like “love” a lot when he doesn’t even understand what they mean. Given, he does grow a bit by the end of the book, but not by much.

Another thing that bothered me was Leo’s obsession with Beatrice. He claims to be in love with her, but the most interaction the two has shared were just smiles as they pass each other in school hallways. He talks about her all the time, and not to discount how strong his feelings were, but Leo’s obsession with Beatrice was strange bordering on creepy. There was this one scene that really made me stop reading for a while. Leo, who was also confined at the same hospital as Beatrice after a scooter accident, goes to visit the girl. He just stayed in Beatrice’s room even if the girl was sleeping, and, more, he caresses her face, then proceeds to tell the nurse who sees him in the girl’s room that he is Beatrice’s boyfriend.

I’m not sure if, somewhere along the way, things were lost in translation but the writing felt patchy and disjointed. It actually made this short book seem longer. I almost put it down a number of times.

I just have to make it clear that I haven’t read the original, which was in Italian, so my review only applies to the English translation. I really wanted to like this book. It had potential, but that’s just it, potential.


9 thoughts on “Review: “White as Silence, Red as Song” by Alessandro D’Avenia

  1. inknpaper85046788 says:

    If I am able to find a copy in Italian I will let you know my thoughts on the book! I did not read the book but it seems like Leo is obsessed with Beatrice like DANTE was obsessed with his Beatrice in the Divina Commedia. Maybe, Beatrice is just an obsession or pure love that cannot be touched by carnal feelings. Silvia seems also an intriguing character because it remind me of Giacomo Leopardi’s true love: Silvia. Silvia instilled in him a hope for life, a hope for all the things that life would bring, and a hope for his fate. who knows what the novel is really about…it seems it is loaded with symbolism….
    Alessandro D’Avenia is an Italian professor of Greek and Latin. I am listening to one of his interviews about the book….he got a lot of references from Italian writers from the past…for example the title of the book is from a sentence in one of Italo Calvino’s books.
    I agree with you in saying that sometimes a good book gets lost in translation.
    I read a sentence from the book in Italian and it feels like an Italo Calvino’s book–Calvino’s books are usually patchy and disjointed in a ” brainy crazy professor who knows too much” way.
    If I find the book, I will let you know what I think about it.
    I watched the interview and, truly, Alessandro D’ Avenia gets on my nerves…. 🙂 He knows it all and he is not afraid to show that to you….I think he is a very brainy professor who got lucky with a book….;)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Rachel says:

      Oh, please do tell me if the original Italian print is any different. I kind of had a feeling that he was sort of making parallels with Leo & Beatrice with the Dante & Beatrice from The Divinr Comedy, but I didn’t knoe about the other one.
      Thank you for your comment. It’s full of insights. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • Rachel says:

      Yes, it’s a reminder for me to take heed of earlier reviews. Ugh! The whole TFiOS reference as marketing plot worked but it will draw more disappointed readers in the end. 🙃

      Liked by 1 person

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