Saturday, April 1, 2023

Q&A with Tony Ardizzone




Tony Ardizzone is the author of the new novel In Bruno's Shadow. His other books include the novel The Whale Chaser, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Georgia Review and TriQuarterly. He is the Chancellor's Professor Emeritus, English, at Indiana University. 


Q: What inspired you to write In Bruno’s Shadow?


A: Put simply, the magnificent beauty of Rome. I’d like the readers of my book to feel as if they’re traveling about Rome, and for those who know Rome to fondly remember their time there.


While writing In Bruno’s Shadow I was drawn to Rome’s popular piazzas and landmarks as well as Rome’s secrets – its hidden squares and fountains, its little-known curiosities.


Because I was in Rome celebrating Christmas in December 2004, on the day the world learned about the devastating South Asian tsunami, my novel begins with that double edge, the joy of celebrating a holiday with friends tempered by the knowledge of distant disaster.


In this way In Bruno’s Shadow is a novel with a spiritual edge, a book about characters seeking understanding, seeking individual solace, while traveling in Rome.


Connecting the novel is a woman from Croatia named Dubravka. She was betrayed in love and witness to a miracle at a holy site in Medugorje, a town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared there to a group of children in 1981. Dubravka goes about Rome doing charity work when she’s not working as a housekeeper in a pensione. Chapters about Dubravka’s life alternate with the Rome chapters.


Q: The writer Stuart Dybek said of the book, “Ardizzone is a writer who writes out of love rather than anger or contempt, and his emotional palette is fittingly broad. Yet his great affection for his subjects never blinds him to the tough realities and inequalities of life...” What do you think of that description?


A: Dybek and I are both writers from Chicago, born to working-class ethnic families, and our works’ interest is in ordinary people, the kind we grew up around. We each write about characters who don’t think they’re particularly special, who work and struggle and hope to get by day to day. Characters who, like all of us, face troubles. Characters who yearn for love.

In Bruno’s Shadow has a multinational cast. The book includes a South Korean Montessori teacher from Canada who has lost one of her senses. A Roman performance artist who decides to portray the life of Caravaggio. A daughter of a Chicago barkeeper fleeing her hostess job in Tokyo’s Roppongi district. A gay centurion working outside Rome’s Colosseum, who carries a secret vendetta. A New York academic weighing evidence against a colleague who is a sexual predator. A grieving father from San Francisco walking in the footsteps of his daughter. A Serbian spearfisher. A kind Croatian priest. As I mentioned, Dubravka is the common element among all of them.


Q: As you've said, Rome is a focal point of the book--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Most writers treat setting as a sort of mood adjuster, like the music you both hear and don’t hear while watching a movie. I like to allow setting to be reflected in the inner lives of my characters.


For example, in Rome there’s a famous church with a trompe-l’oeil ceiling and dome. Trompe-l’oeil tricks the viewer into thinking that a two-dimensional surface has true depth and is actually three-dimensional. The bartender’s daughter who works as a hostess in Tokyo visits this church, interacts with this setting, and comes to recognize how the duality of the church’s ceiling mirrors the duality and falseness of her own life.


In Bruno’s Shadow also has many chapters set in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik as well as Mostar and Medugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina, places deeply affected by the Croat-Bosniak War.


I’m not a minimalist. I would like readers of my novel to feel what it’s like to walk the streets of Rome, the Old City and harbor of Dubrovnik, the Muslim quarter of Mostar, and the hills of Medugorje.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Giordano Bruno was a Dominican friar who was imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately hung upside down and burned to death by the Church for his beliefs. One of Bruno’s ideas was that man and the Earth were not the center of God’s creations. Bruno believed in an infinite universe and the possibility of an infinite number of other worlds like ours. The novel’s cover design features an excerpt of the Flammarian engraving that is often associated with Bruno’s thoughts about the earth and the heavens.


Bruno represents the idea that faith and the institutions of religion are often two radically different things.


Though Dubravka was raised Catholic, she practices the Muslim way of washing oneself each morning upon rising. When living in the Muslim section of Mostar, in Bosnia, she prays each morning at a nearby mosque. In Rome she kneels in a pew in church reciting the rosary. As she walks about Rome doing charity work, a prayer often hovers on her lips.


True faith transcends the narrow boundaries of sect or denomination. The novel is about entertaining ideas that go beyond the merely scientific. The windows of Dubravka’s bedroom look down upon the statue of Giordano Bruno on the site where he was killed. Her life is governed by her spirituality and entwined with miracles.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Something different. A novel about children, told from an adult point of view.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Guernica Editions is planning a virtual launch for its Spring 2023 releases in June. More information about me and my book-related activities can be found on my website:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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