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I Stole the Rain by Elisa Ruotolo
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I Stole the Rain

by Elisa Ruotolo

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There are three extraordinary literary short stores concealed in this collection by Italian debut author Elisa Ruotolo. I enjoyed them all. They were lovely, subtle, slice-of-life stories told by a fine literary talent. They entertained me and made me feel like I had left my home and taken a small vacation in southern Italy.

So why do I say the stories are concealed? It is because they are almost lost within a very poor translation. On virtually every page, there were sentences that were so awkward they jerked me away from the story-telling trance into the reality of trying to figure what was wrong. I could rarely relax and just be a reader. Instead, I felt pushed into the role of proofreader and copy editor. If I read the offending passages repeatedly, I could generally figure out what was wrong, as well as what the author was trying to say. My mind would quickly reword the passage and I’d be able to get on with the story; but sometimes these passages were so baffling that I just had to skip them and hope that the loss would not detract from the story as a whole. As you can imagine, this was very annoying. It is a powerful testament to the underlying high quality of the author that I finished these stories and enjoyed them despite the frustrations of the translation.

There is a fine art to literary translation and this translator missed that mark by a very wide margin. She may be a fine translator of nonfiction, but she has a lot to learn about translating literature. It is a shame that the publisher saw fit to publish this fine work with such a poor translation. After reading the publisher’s website and the long essay there by the owner entitled, “Why I Publish Ebooks, or the Future of Literary Translation,” I feel confident that the blame for this travesty sits squarely with this publisher. I recommend that you read that essay to better comprehend what I am trying to convey.

So what can I briefly tell you about Elisa Ruotolo’s marvelous stories in this collection? There are three and they all take place in the charming southern Italian region of Campania. They celebrate small village life.

In the first story, “I Am Super Legend, ” a fourteen-year-old boy becomes the town’s legendary superstar while substituting as a fill-in player on the town’s scruffy adult soccer team. The kid has enough sense to know that his season-long winning streak was pure luck, but his father sees only raw talent and pushes him toward training for a professional soccer career. It’s not the future that either the kid or his mother want, but he gives in to his father’s dreams. Over the course of the next decade, the kid’s life follows a strange and sad path, but eventually, it delivers him back to his old village where he is able to manipulate his “Super Legend” fame in a unique way to earn the life he always wanted in the first place.

“The Child Comes Home” is a remarkably poignant and affecting story about a woman whose son disappeared decades ago when he was only nine years old. Is he alive? Will he every come home to visit her? One morning, she comes back close to dawn after a full day of black-market jewelry business. She has all her valuable gold merchandise wrapped around her body in special tight undergarments. She is just inside the doors to her home when she hears a knock on the door. Is it a thief or her son?

The last story, “Look At Me,” centers around a curious character named Cesare. Everyone thinks he’s mute, but is he? Cesare makes a living selling fizzy drinks from a three-wheeled motor-van. He’s content with his lot. He’s the best friend of the narrator’s father. The father is intent on finding Cesare a wife and enrolls him in a local matchmaking club. The narrator grows up puzzled watching his father and his mute friend Cesare spending time together. What does his father get out of this odd, seemingly one-way relationship? In the end, the narrator—now a grown man himself—finally understands…and the narrator contentedly takes his place as a permanent fixture in Cesare’s life.

These are the type of stories that linger in the mind long after you’ve finished them. They made me want to return to southern Italy, to once again experience the marvelous food, culture, and people. I wish the reading experience had not been significantly marred by the poor translation. The author gets a strong four stars for her emotionally affecting literary tales. The translator gets two stars. [The publisher gets my scorn; I will be wary of this publisher in the future.]

I recommend these stories highly if you feel you are the type of reader who can easily read beyond, and be forgiving toward, a poor literary translation. ( )
  msbaba | Dec 23, 2013 |
The three short stories of “I Stole the Rain” are happy, dark, humorous, cynical, charming and sad. They are the human experience. Ruotolo creates truly quirky characters that are very well developed. You know the young focus of “I am Super Legend” has quite the challenge of overcoming his accidental reputation. Should he overcome it or can he work it to his advantage. In the time we spend with him, it’s hard not to feel sorry for him and hope for his success and in that wish a connection is made. The bond we build is a testament to the talent of Rutolo.

A drawback of “I Stole the Rain” is that there are times when the translation is very awkward. It must be terribly difficult to translate an artistic work especially given that translating too literally can interfere with the intent of the work. Many times over the course of “I Stole the Rain,” I had to stop reading to go back and try to work out awkward reading to the base meaning.

Overall these character sketches for southern Italy serve as a nice little time away. My favorite story was “Look at Me” which contained many layers within the narrative. The young boy who is attempting to match make develops understanding over time of what he may not have noticed before. The talent of this author shines through awkward wordings. While I’m not sure that I would read her again, I thoroughly enjoyed “I Stole the Rain.” ( )
  TammyDewhirst | Dec 16, 2013 |
Frisch & Company has published a book of three short stories, I Stole the Rain by Italian writer Elisa Ruotolo that may be another production that shows a trend in ebook fiction publishing. This is the second example I have read recently of a collection of a few good loosely connected stories presented by book companies in small editions. They offer readers the opportunity to read good fiction for a couple of hours at home or on the run for a low price. Amazon started in this direction early on with Amazon Singles that included a lengthy single short story (e.g., Stephen King's Mile 81 (Kindle Single) and Marcia Clark's If I'm Dead: A Rachel Knight Story).

The three stories in this volume are interesting character studies of individuals living and working in Italy, in particular the Naples area. I Am Super Legend, is the story of a boy from a lower middle class neighborhood whose father is the coach of an adult football team. Playing every Sunday, the team has a perennial losing record until one season the coach's teenage son is old enough to be put into the matches. From his first game, the boy's actions lead to the success of the team. Feeling lucky to be consistently in the right place at the right time to kick goals on the field, the coach's son is surprised by people in the neighborhood quickly responding to him with the nickname "Super Legend." Knowing that luck is no indication of his real talent, he must make the conscious but private decision to foster the community's delusion of his small greatness or take the more sober academic path that fits his true talent.

In The Child Comes Home, parents deal with the sudden disappearance of their young child. The world shattering experience causes the father to withdraw from the situation over time and the mother to continue her search for the lost boy for her entire life. But, what what would happen if she was successful in her efforts to find her son? Circumstances change over the years but memories remain locked in time. With so much emotion involved in a lifetime of longing, is it better to maintain the unchanging memory or adjust to the potentially disturbing reality of the present?

Look At Me, is the story of the life long bond of friendship that begins between two men when they are brought together as boys in the first year of school. The chance encounter made possible by the Italian mandatory education system causes two lives to be so entwined that their personalities and behavior become interdependent over time. One man is brash, headstrong, and lusty and the other is mute, withdrawn, and shy. In a lifetime of interaction and circumstances, can they be influenced so much by each other that their social roles partially reverse while basic personality traits remain intact?

This interesting short work was translated from the Italian to English by Lisa McCreadie. The translation contains contemporary English jargon that helps in the story development yet the basic structure of the Italian language is maintained giving good local color to the three stories. I enjoyed reading the stories and recommend the book to readers who like tales that focus on good character development and resolution of psychological dilemmas. ( )
  GarySeverance | Oct 16, 2013 |
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A trio of unforgettable stories from the superstitious Italian province of Campania In Campania fizzy drinks are delivered by cart, old women sell gold to a furtive clientele, and the tobacconist's daughter is a prize beyond imagining. In the first tale, "I am Super Legend," a local team of beer-swilling, smoking, perennial losers is dragged toward the dubiously prestigious championship by the coach's son, who becomes cursed by his nickname, Super Legend. In "Look at Me," a motherless boy tries to help his father's best friend, the mute Cesare, who has fallen in love with their housekeeper Silvia. And in "The Child Comes Home," a young boy disappears, and his mother - after losing everything and being forced to take up her grandmother's questionably legal profession - is consoled by her bickering sisters-in-law and her undying wish to hear her son's knock on the front door... A sublime mixture of humour and pathos, and brimming with colourful characters, I Stole the Rain is a delightful collection from one of Italy's pre-eminent storytellers.… (more)

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