Giacomo Casanova, the 18th-century Italian author and philanderer, is famous for a multivolume memoir that recounts his legendary amorous...
“In Lucia’s Eyes”
by Arthur Japin,
translated by David Colmer
Knopf, 235 pp., $24
Giacomo Casanova, the 18th-century Italian author and philanderer, is famous for a multivolume memoir that recounts his legendary amorous exploits. Curiously, it makes little mention of his first love, Lucia. Now Arthur Japin (“The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi”) embellishes the Casanova myth by fictionalizing Lucia’s life. The result is “In Lucia’s Eyes,” a historical romance that explores a brave woman’s journey of self-discovery, leading ultimately to a deep understanding of true love.
Lucia’s parents work as servants on an estate in Pasiano, Italy. When Lucia is in her early teens, she meets Giacomo, who has been invited to be an estate guest. They quickly form a deep bond, which leads them to contemplate marriage. Giacomo has to return to Venice but promises to come back soon. Meanwhile, Lucia is disfigured by an illness. When Giacomo returns, Lucia, certain that their union will bring him misery, hides from him.
Lucia flees Pasiano. She goes on to become a housekeeper, handmaiden to an educated woman of means, streetwalker and, eventually, a much-sought-after courtesan. She keeps herself veiled to avoid revealing her disfigurement, while creating a seductive aura. Though she entertains countless men, her heart still belongs to Giacomo.
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A chance meeting reunites them in Amsterdam, only now he is known as Monsieur le Chevalier de Seingalt, and she calls herself Galathée de Pompignac. She recognizes him, though he is unaware of her identity, and they commence an affair. But shadows of the past hang over them, and each faces a momentous decision.
Japin mostly succeeds in infusing his work with a memoirlike reality. The translation from the original Dutch is sometimes distracting. And though Lucia is an otherwise well-formed character, her rapid transformation from a simple girl to sophisticated woman stretches credulity.
Reviewed by Bharti Kirchner
“The Education of a Coach”
by David Halberstam
Hyperion, 277 pp., $24.95
Consider this in mathematical terms: Brilliant writer plus brainiac coach plus appealing subject equals interesting book.
The writer is Pulitzer Prize-winner David Halberstam, and the coach is Bill Belichick, winner of three of the past four Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. The book is about how Belichick became one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, winning Super Bowls in this much more difficult football era of the salary cap that forces teams to constantly reshuffle and restock.
One of the appeals of “The Education of a Coach” is that Halberstam admits he knows less about football than baseball and basketball, and so he patiently explains things that had to be explained to him. You can be a Halberstam fan more than a football fan and enjoy this book, which is an easy 277-page read.
This isn’t a tell-all volume about Belichick. Halberstam waits until page 266 to gently break the news that the coach and his wife of 28 years separated “quietly and amicably” last year.
The book traces Belichick’s football education back to age 9, when he watched game-film with his father, Steve, a Navy assistant coach considered a near-genius for his scouting and analytical skills. Halberstam follows Belichick as a marginal player — he played center at Annapolis High School; spent a year at Andover prep school; then played at Wesleyan, which isn’t exactly Ohio State.
Belichick began in the NFL as an unpaid Baltimore Colts assistant, a gofer and game-film nerd. His name has risen to become a synonym for winning, and his 2002 Super Bowl against St. Louis is regarded by some as the Beethoven’s Ninth of coaching masterpieces.
His rise and travels included a failed stint under difficult circumstances as head coach in Cleveland. It also included three tours of duty under Bill Parcells, the current Dallas Cowboys coach, who comes off as an acid-tongued bully to be avoided.
Reviewed by Craig Smith
by Christian Wiman
Copper Canyon Press, 104 pp., $14
As editor of the prestigious “Poetry” magazine, Christian Wiman wields more influence in the world of contemporary verse than one would expect of the author of two comparatively slim volumes.
Any editor risks being accused by rejected writers of exercising mere prattle without practice, and the editor of “Poetry,” which has room to publish perhaps one-half of 1 percent of the poems submitted, no doubt has the accusation aimed at him 100 times a week.
In “Hard Night,” his second book, Wiman shows that his practice easily would make the cut according to his own editorial standards. It is a rich, diverse book, with three long poems and perhaps two dozen shorter works, some in strict meter and rhyme, others in less rigid but no less carefully crafted forms.
The 35-page “Being Serious,” with its lines of sometimes vastly different lengths, has a deceptively ragged look. But the poem reveals an urgent rhythm and subtle, often very funny rhymes.
We meet Serious, the title character, in utero and follow him to the moment his casket is nailed shut. In 23 sections he goes to school, dates, marries, separates from his wife — and never stumbles under the burden of being Serious.
Wiman’s wit, too, is never less than serious. When Serious begins dating, he falls hard for Doom: “And what a relief. / After Morose and Mad and Neurotic; / After almost falling for Grief, / Who was so exotic / She made all the others seem tame.”
Reviewed by Richard Wakefield