Giulio Mozzi - In the eight stories of this collection, we see a steady reworking of the idea of the world as a fallen Eden. Here, in Mozzi’s garden, quasi-allegorical characters seek knowledge of something beyond their shaken realities: they have all lost something and react by escaping, retreating from reality into a world, as Mozzi says, that is “fantastic, mystical, absurd”




Giulio Mozzi, This Is the Garden, Trans. by Elizabeth Harris, Open Letter Books, 2014.  
excerpt

“I read Giulio Mozzi’s first book with real enthusiasm. What struck me most was his everyday language. Even when his subjects rely on metaphor, his words are plain, and so turn mysterious.” 
Federico Fellini

Giulio Mozzi’s first book, This Is the Garden (winner of the 1993 Premio Mondello), astonished the Italian literary world for its commanding vision and the beauty of its prose. In the eight stories of this collection, we see a steady reworking of the idea of the world as a fallen Eden. Here, in Mozzi’s garden, quasi-allegorical characters seek knowledge of something beyond their shaken realities: they have all lost something and react by escaping, retreating from reality into a world, as Mozzi says, that is “fantastic, mystical, absurd.” A purse-snatcher mails his victim’s letters back to her, including a letter of his own. An apprentice longs to be a real person, a worker, in an anonymous business where Kafkaesque machines cut nondescript pieces from an unnamed raw material. A man finds, in his endless activity of picking up broken glass in his garden, a metaphor for gathering the pieces of his soul. Intensely imagistic, mystical, mysterious, This Is the Garden is a complicated, unsentimental—yet also heartfelt—exploration of spirituality, love, and the act of creation by a master of the short-story form. 


"Gorgeously rooted in the best modernist tradition of writers like Italo Calvino and Antonio Tabucchi, Giulio Mozzi is among the most fiercely literary authors emerging from Italian literature today. These stories, which in so many different ways are about writing itself, are like rivers cutting through the northern Italian countryside—lush, limpid, exotic. Elizabeth Harris's translation beautifully renders the noble grit of Mozzi's distinctive voice." —Minna Proctor

Eight elegantly translated short stories—cryptic, wry and witty.
Mozzi tends to focus on the outré and is masterful at creating individuals in isolation. “Cover Letter,” the first story in the collection, is a love letter of sorts from a professional purse-snatcher to a woman who was a victim of his predations. He lingers over the contents, speculating about her life and loves, and evokes her presence from the artifacts he finds in the purse. By turns apologetic, proud, empathetic and confessional, he quotes to her from two letters he’s found in her purse and speculates about their significance in her life before he sends them back to her. The next story is “The Apprentice,” a long story about an apprentice in a shop who tries to work his way up from messenger boy to skilled laborer, though he’s subject to the vagaries of office politics and nepotism. “Claw” is a story about Yanez, a recluse in a small village who’s visited every day for over 20 years by the only woman who seems to care about his existence. One day, an Englishman, self-described as a “saint,” comes to “save [the villagers’] souls from certain death...if they refused his help,” and his plea is intriguing enough to lure Yanez out of the house he’s scarcely left for years. “Tana,” one of Mozzi’s most cryptic stories, concerns a woman who comes across an angel, complete with wings, and this angel inadvertently (and ironically) helps her overcome her aversion to sexuality.
Although Mozzi’s style is crisp and straightforward, the stories themselves are beautifully nuanced and elliptical. - Kirkus Review

For Giulio Mozzi, the garden referred to in the title of his first published work is both a metaphor for human failing and a gloomy, declarative argument that paradise exists around us yet, if only we could enter it.
Winner of the 1993 Premio Mondello, the influence of Guilio Mozzi’s eight story collection This is the Garden on Italian literature long predates the English language translation of the book. The first of over twenty-five published works by Mozzi, these stories read intimately despite the careful anonymity of their narrators, all of whom live introspectively inside vivid imaginations that are  dislocated almost completely from their physical surroundings.
In “Cover Letter,” a thief imagines what life is like for the woman whose purse he’s stolen, and sends her back the letters he’s found inside along with one of his own.
The narrator of the next story, “The Apprentice,” is a young errand-runner who wants nothing more than to move up the ranks at his job, to man machines for which no function has been revealed, and by which no named object is produced.
In almost every story the reader is privy to a train of thought, or the process of thought itself, without learning much at all about the identity of the lonely thinker. Longing, desire, resignation, and hope are implied without any indication of personal history, and it is through keeping up this strange dislocation that Mozzi’s mastery reveals itself.
Two stories stand apart in that they are more narrative and deal directly with the spiritual. In “Claw,” an elderly man who spends years alone takes house visits regularly from only one local woman confesses all to an Englishman new to his village, and in “Tana”, a girl paradoxically comes to term with sexual embodiment — her own and others’ — through an unlikely encounter with a filthy angel whom she lends a bath and place in her bed.
Some of the shorter stories, like “Trains” (about a man bound for the city in which his ex-lover lives) and “Glass” (in which someone struggles to find themselves in the pieces of a broken window), are vehicles for sweet reflections, but feel incomplete unto themselves even as they speak to the other stories. “I understand now,” the narrator in “Glass” tells us, “that gathering shards strengthens my soul, comforts it, helps us to see that even if the windows have shattered, they can still be recovered, piece by piece . . . And I’m glad this is the sort of work you can’t finish — really, it would be extremely sad to finish, to find yourself with your soul all in one hand.”
If only the original letter writer in “Cover Letter” could hear the shard-collector as he writes sadly of time spent in his garden that “once in a while . . . I think you’re in the garden, too, and this thought is so intense that your soul, wherever you are, feels drawn here, and it leaves your body for just an instant . . . then slips back to you before you’ve even noticed it’s gone.”
If only Tana could truly know another person, she need not learn that even heaven on earth itself cannot eliminate the human feeling of fracture. - Emily Oppenheimer

“Dear Signorina” begins Cover Letter, the first story in Giulio Mozzi’s captivating collection This is the Garden.  It’s a story that’s not, as its name would suggest, about a hopeful candidate applying for a legitimate job, and instead goes on to explain the many reasons behind pulling a criminal one.  For it seems that in Mozzi’s world, even the lowliest of thieves can get bored, lonely, and introspective, and even if it can only ever be one-way, they still need someone to connect with on an emotional level.  It’s this story about a purse snatcher returning letters to his victim that he found while rifling through her bag, with his own running commentary attached about their possible meaning, that sets the stage for an all-out exploration of what it’s like to live a life in which you’ve become boxed in by your own personal rules of confinement.  The thief must adhere to his own set of homegrown standards and practices for his personal safety and ongoing survival, but it’s these very things that prohibit him from forming any kind of lasting, meaningful attachment with another human being.  Yet still he tries.
In The Apprentice we meet a young man who is all too eager to prove his worth and move up the ladder from delivery boy to machine operator.  What is this company he works for called?  What does it manufacture?  These details are deemed unimportant and thus are left unexplored and unanswered, for what is most critical is the thought patterns of this young man and how sees himself in relation to the world around him.  In heartbreaking detail, Mozzi captures the inner struggles of a person standing frozen in place.  He’s unable to move beyond the job he currently possesses, but not for the reasons he originally attributes as the root causes behind his failure.  Ultimately he learns that not achieving your dreams isn’t exactly the worst thing that can happen, for finally becoming cognizant of the realities surrounding your mundane existence can be far more damaging to the soul.
Themes of isolation and longing for connection continue to drive forward and tie together the remaining stories of the collection as well.  In On the Publication of my First Book we’re introduced to a first-time author speaking plainly about, amongst other things, why he believes his work to be unpublishable.  In Trains we meet Mario, a young man who decides to take a trip because he can’t quite figure out how to properly interpret the meaning of five words that were written to him in a letter from an ex-lover.  And then of course there’s Tana.
In this story, a lonely young girl who spends the bulk of her time hiding in her room encounters an Angel.  A single peek at his “smooth and clean” sex organ helps her work through a complicated experience from her past that’s been holding her hostage in the present day.  It’s a magical, intoxicating piece that speaks directly to our universal ability to become trapped by certain moments, unable to escape the lasting impressions they’ve stamped upon us.  What better way could there possibly be to conquer an accidentally acquired revulsion to the male anatomy then with a close up inspection of a divine being’s gloriously scent-free penis?
Candid and bursting with a raw affection for its subjects, each of the stories in Mozzi’s collection is as inviting as it is revealing.  Through them, we’re reminded that even though our individual and collective existences may be filled with flaws, life still holds the promise of the unknown and presents us with an infinite number of chances to alter our course for the better.
Is it true that this world IS the garden, a fallen paradise as the cover so emphatically proclaims?  All of Mozzi’s dynamic characters seem to believe so, and as they stumble through their personal explorations into the inner workings of life, love, work, and belief, it becomes harder and harder not to agree with their assessment. -

What is a garden? For Adam and Eve, it is the warm kingdom of innocence from which they have fallen. For Candide, it is the final plot he must dedicate his life to cultivating. For Giulio Mozzi, the garden resembles a Borgesian labyrinth—a mysterious, perplexing place in which people constantly write, read, and rewrite the ever-shifting planes of some elusive salvation. Mozzi’s garden is both the sandbox of the imagination and also an idyll his sad, thoughtful characters can never seem to achieve.
Mozzi’s This Is the Garden is easily the most rewarding book I’ve read this year. First published in 1993 (and winner of the Premio Mondello) and translated this year by Elizabeth Harris for Open Letter Books, these short stories each explore a combination of metaphors that plague and sanctify the human experience: the word, the letter, the sheltering garden, and the postlapsarian dream of succor.
The first piece in this brief, eight-story collection gives us a petty thief writing to his most recent victim. He is returning two letters he found in the purse he snatched. While detailing the thought process of a criminal observing potential victims, he digresses into disclosures such as that letter-writing seems more honest than the ephemeral, blunt honesty of direct conversation: “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me, and perhaps that’s making me too verbose; my apologies.” Such an existentially conscious and narcissistic character offers his victim enough gems about the letters that perhaps she’ll even forget her material suffering: 
“Anyway, since your friend’s descriptions were completely unreal, I took to them at once. Children view reality this way, too, and I’m not sure if it’s instinct or habit that makes adults tell fairytales and stories to reinforce this idea of the world as somehow magical, or if adults are too lazy to explain the way things really work.”
A perfect opening to a story collection, “Cover Letter” tells us what to expect: very fine sentences, outcast characters, tacit ruminations on everything from first impressions to deontology and consequentialism, all held in check by a steady hand. Control is the order of the day and it is mesmerizing to see how much Mozzi packs into just under 120 pages.
His Kafkaesque characters—old, young, male, female, adroit, spacey—do not know what plagues them, necessarily. The second story, “The Apprentice,” tells of a young man who wishes to be more than just a delivery boy, but rather a true apprentice who might grow in time into “a man, a worker.” He experiences the joys and pitfalls of laboring for an uninterested boss who might hold, not only the keys, but the existential manual, to his future. He suffers the futility and anomie of his work, furiously certain that “he’s certainly much more than nothing, even if he doesn’t know what.” The boy haplessly considers the merits of punishment as biblical path to salvation, recalling the garden in which men first foolishly attempted to be like gods.
Each of these stories does indeed evoke or otherwise explicitly depict a garden, but the collection is not purely religious in nature. It’s thoroughly human, it’s Kafka, it’s experience of love and the puzzles of human connection and communication.
“To Mario, the dreams you can’t remember are the most important kind—they protect your vital secrets.” Mario is whiling the time on a five-hour train ride that reminded me in its style of Venedikt Erofeev’s masterful fugue Moscow to the End of the Line.  “Today, Mario is headed to Rome where, perhaps, a woman is waiting for him. A few days ago, he got a letter from her saying: ‘I miss you’ and ‘I wish you were here.’ But the letter didn’t say: ‘Please come.’”
“What he thought were her dreams turned out to be his instead.” What a line—and Mozzi offers many like this. “Trains” is my favorite for its relentless burrowing—again, a Kafka reference of Mozzi’s—into the seismic trepidations of the romantic experience.
Beyond the raw emotion and deft psychology contained in these stories, each of Mozzi’s parables drifts into the tall grass of that other garden—the garden of creation, of story-telling, of finding the right word. 
“You might say that in some letters, maybe all letters, the important thing is only said after the final sentence, in the silence that follows.”
Or: “I ask myself what compels all this to hurl itself headlong into something so precise and defined as a story that has a beginning and an end. I think there must be some kind of grudge against reality in all this.”
But fear not—Mozzi does not stake his claim to meta-narrative navel-gazing. The experience that fascinates him most seems to be more primal, more guttural: a person’s simple search for how to speak to another, for how to begin, for how to end: “There’s something I keep trying to say, that grammar won’t permit, won’t allow.” 
“I’ll never forget this pain. I beg you, all of you here, and I think I’ve finally managed to say what I had to, after all this hemming and hawing that was more from fear than anything else, because just bringing up certain things is scary, I beg you, please, try and understand my pain even a little, or at least try to accept it as something that could happen and could be true. The books I’ve read have taught me many things, but above all, they’ve taught me to preserve my life and to tuck my voice away inside my life and keep it safe—my voice, unique and private: my unique treasure and my health. I love you all.”
This is not easily digestible and forgotten. Mozzi’s is a European sentence—meandering, introspective, borderline Proustian at times. It is a sentence that demands its place on the page, that, without meaning to, reminds us of how many sentences don’t merit the space we give them. His words breathe in the vastness of their own possibilities, do not want to waste their breath. 
“There have been many times, during intense conversations full of affection and emotion, with people I loved very much or at least wanted to love very much, that my words slowly disappeared, until all I had left in my head was one tiny phrase, or a few phrases, incongruous, but full of meaning, mysterious phrases, impossible to say. And in those moments, you can almost hear your brain creaking, straining to raise too great a weight. To say these words, to transform their mystery into a simple sequence, compressions and decompressions of air, to hear them disperse, scattered, useless, this would have been too much. As I stop writing this letter, I apologize to you that I can’t even sign it. Good luck.”
But to rave about the maestro’s sentences is insufficient—what of plot, drama, explosions? There is plenty of that here, in Mozzi’s dream garden. The conflict is buried deep in and burrows deep into the psyche of these perturbingly mundane characters. Mozzi’s little gem is not called This is the Garden, but rather This Is the Garden. The first thought upon finishing the last story of the collection is: ah, yes—there—I must return. —Tom Faure

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve freely eat fruit from the Tree of Life, while avoiding that of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then, the serpent appears. Suggesting Eve should eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, the serpent tells her that if she does so she will not die as she fears — she will simply gain knowledge and so become more like God. So Eve tastes the fruit and shares it with Adam and soon nothing and everything has changed. Suddenly, the pair understands they are naked so they weave fig leaves to cover their newly shameful bodies. Seeing these clothes, God understands what has happened but first questions the couple before punishing them. Cast out of the Garden, Eve will feel pain in childbirth while Adam will be compelled to labor. As for the serpent, he will crawl in the dust.

This simple story from Genesis has been retold and expanded by many in order to illustrate aspects of man’s relationship with God. For instance, John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, shows Eve’s misstep with the serpent occurring only after she has convinced Adam that it would be best for each of them to be alone in separate parts of the garden; her desire for independence and solitude is a possible weakness. More recently, the author Giulio Mozzi has taken up this tale of disobedience and knowledge, if not quite so literally, in his collection of eight short stories, This Is The Garden, published originally in Italian in 1993 and winner of the Premio Mondello.
Mozzi’s semi-allegorical stories use concise and simple, though somewhat cold, prose. Effortless to read, there is a rainy-day, pensive quality to these tales, though overall his style seems bent on making a reader think more than feel as they explore the themes contained within the Genesis story. There is also a notable lack of dialogue and many of the actual confrontations between characters have taken place either offstage or in the past; most of the action is remembered by or filtered through only one participant. In short, there’s no immediacy to much of the action, all urgency is contained in each character’s thoughts. Such storytelling suggests that any meaning attached to life — or even our own actions — evolves slowly and only after prolonged meditation.
“The Apprentice” is the standout tale in the collection. A nameless apprentice in an untitled factory manufacturing unknown products slowly comes to realize that he will never transform into a worker like those toiling around him (as his job title suggests). From the start, he is different than the others because of his understanding and attitude toward work:
The apprentice knows that work is a punishment; he learned it at catechism when he was just a child: Adam and Eve were driven from earthly paradise for wanting to be like God, and they were condemned to toil for everything they needed, condemned, in other words, to work. In earthly paradise, the apprentice thinks, everything must have been within your grasp; idleness must have been beautiful, free from any threat of disgust. The apprentice is glad for this punishment of having to work; this seems like the proper remedy, the proper cure, like a sick person takes his medicine: why would he refuse? But the apprentice feels a little afraid when he notices that work is going well, when work pulls him away from his disgust: if he enjoys his work, it’s not a punishment. The apprentice is convinced if people like to work, if they find it satisfying, then they’ve made a grave mistake; these people, he thinks, will work their entire lives without gaining the most important thing they can from work, what follows punishment: freedom from sin, and so, the happiness to come.
Such are the thoughts of the apprentice, so absolutely unlike those of the newcomer, who becomes nearly indistinguishable from the other workers on the job almost at once. And so the story ends with a realization that no one but he is a “permanent apprentice,” a person who “has no definite form, is inexhaustible, can take on any form required and make this temporary form seem real, as if it has always been his coherent state.” If work is punishment, it is indirect and comes in the form of desolation.
In the story “Tana,” a young student finds a dirty and disheveled angel in the rainy streets on her way home from classes. She sneaks him into her family’s apartment and draws him a bath; the angel cleans himself and then she brings him to her room. In the kitchen, she discovers she no longer understands the language her father, brother, and mother speak and after eating supper with them, she returns to the bathroom and then her own room. Before sleep arrives, she studies the naked angel, and remembers a recent experience in which she touched a young man’s penis for the first time and felt it spring to life in her hand. Fearfully, she ran from the boy but now she gives a light kiss to the angel’s penis, which does not rise in response. The following morning, she wakes with a fever and the angel is gone; as illness earns her time off from school, she knows she will be the envy of her friends.
In “Cover Letter,” a purse snatcher sends a letter to his victim, an attractive young woman he stalked in a department store. After finding two letters from a friend in her purse, he returns them to her with his comments on their contents in a letter of his own.  In “Trains,” a bookstore worker named Mario travels by train to different cities on his days off and there passes his time alone, eating in bars, stopping in stores; this time, he has boarded a train to Rome and is traveling toward a woman he once loved, hoping to immediately return without seeing her and repeating past mistakes. In “F.,” a magistrate working to prosecute the mafia has been sequestered for his own protection and so he wishes only for another opportunity to be with his beloved wife.
In each story, then, Mozzi creates characters isolated from other people (and from reality) and forced by lonely circumstance to contemplate their lives. One and all they feel confusion and, much like Adam and Eve, some unexpected loss though not the grief felt by the hapless pair after being ejected from Eden no, this is the bewilderment and sadness experienced when they first comprehend the innocence lost, the virtue they can never reclaim. In these stories, a dull ache is at the core of every character and each is only dimly aware of their inherent good and inescapable evil. If, as Sartre would have it, hell is other people, solitude, Mozzi would suggest, is no heaven either. - Susan Scutti

About the Author: Giulio Mozzi has published twenty-six books—as fiction writer, poet, and editor. He is primarily known for his story collections, especially This Is the Garden, which won the Premio Mondello. “The Apprentice” (included in this collection) appears in an anthology of the top Italian stories of the twentieth century. He has even created an imaginary artist, Carlo Dalcielo, whose work has appeared in public exhibitions and books, like Dalkey Archive Press’s Best European Fiction 2010.


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