Giuseppe Pontiggia, Born Twice

I haven't read a lot of Italian literature: a few novels, Calvino and Eco most recently, and neither of these writers felt like this one. But in reading Giuseppe Peruggia's Born Twice, I couldn't stop thinking about Oriana Fallaci's Letter to a Child Never Born (that I read as an undergrad as Carta a un nino que nunca nacio). In both of these sensitive, articulate explorations of a boundary mental state involving a child's medical crisis, the voice veers between wilful distance and claustrophobic intimacy. I like both works, but Fallaci's was more affecting -- even though my situation now is more like that of Professor Frigerio in Born Twice, whose son was born in crisis and with disabilities.

Or maybe because my situation is more like his?

I admit it, I came to this book looking for a reflection of myself, complete with pats on the back and advice and -- yes, I'll use the two-dollar word -- validation. His son has tremendous difficulty with basic activities, like standing upright, walking, or speaking intelligibly, so he faces a more difficult road than my daughter probably does, but the more we learn about her future struggles, the more self-conscious I get about my own reactions to her and about her, moment by moment.

There are some gleaming lines here, and some terrific scenes that make this book ring truly to me. It's not a disability book, and not a father's book -- and I wouldn't suggest you baldly refer to it to just anyone you know who's the father of a child with a disability -- but that's how I read it. I couldn't read it any other way, so I don't really know whether it's a good novel. Here's the money passage, though, explaining the title, the words of a doctor to young Paolo's parents:
"These children are born twice. They have to learn to get by in a world that their first birth made difficult for them. Their second birth depends on you, on what you can give them. Because they are born twice, their journey through life is a far more agonizing one than most. Yet ultimately their rebirth will be yours too. This, at least, has been my experience. I have no more to tell you."
You tell me. I can't say.


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