Meccanica Celeste filters personal legends and events that link the last German attack on civilians in 1944 to the victory of Obama. Visions of a life that is possible, a community that is possible and memories that resist all forms of revisionism.
The setting is what the characters in this novel call with bureaucratic affection Our District: namely a geographical area between the Versilia coast, the spiky tops of the Apuan Alps and the more severe outline of mountain tops and valleys formed by the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines. It is the night Barack Obama was to be elected president, and while waiting for the results the narrator and and his partner Nina make love and conceive a child.. During the following nine months, the inevitable and wonderful legacy of memory causes the father-to-be to recall his own personal story as well all those other stories which are brought back to protect something that cannot take place without the blessing of time, and so re-kindles the legendary essence of the inhabitants of the District.
The story stretches then narrows again, it moves back and forth in time: from the present day it goes back to the Second World War (when the District suffered attacks and destruction) and from there even further back to the turn of the century: to the times when people emigrated to England and across the Ocean, when there was intense movement of people departing from the edge of the District to go to Amazonian rivers, concentration camps, Transvaal mines and then again from those far away worlds back to the wild and protective mountains of the District.
The linking thread and main emotional element of the story is Duse, the narrator’s mother. She is an intrepid junior school teacher, a tango player at her parent’s Inn set in the heart of the Tuscan hills and custodian of the mystery of her long lost love with a handsome soldier: the narrator’s father. A number of characters rotate around Duse – Santarellina, an orphan who was bought at the age of eight by a farming family and who spent twenty years making chips in Newcastle; Omo Nudo, who returned in rags from a German concentration camp and became an illicit pig slaughterer; Otello, a tombstone engraver in Argentina; Don Gigliante , more an authoritarian curator of souls than a traditional parish priest and also radical “trade unionist” of quarry diggers. In a world that is threatened by war, by madness or by work, all the characters of Meccanica Celeste are bearers of the “good news of love”; they are all part of a magical circle in which it easy to pass on traditions. Almost as if the baby who is yet to be born can hear these stories which come from distant times but which still survive in the shapes of these mountains and in the mystery of these places: Pania, Monte Pisanino, Omo Morto, Orto di Donna, Sant’Anna di Sazema.
Maurizio Maggiani has drawn from his skill as great oral narrator in order to write his very ‘own’ Iliad, his most generous and dream-like novel. He has turned the region between Versilia and the Apuan Alps into a place of legends, where, with their every movement, the inhabitants bring back to life a part of History that has by no means ended and needs to be narrated so that it may be remembered not just at anniversaries but also in order to contrast all possible revisionary lies.