Anywhere But Home

Written by Daniel Speck Jaime McGill (trans.)
Review by Waheed Rabbani

Milan, 2014. After an exhausting fashion show, 36-year-old Julia, a German dress designer, meets an older, distinguished-looking German gentleman. He introduces himself as Vincent, a retired BMW executive, and her grandfather. Julia hadn’t met him before, and when he informs Julia that his son, her father Vincenzo, is alive, Julia is shocked. Her mother had told her that Vincenzo was an Italian guest worker in Munich and had died decades ago. In 1954, Vincent had met the attractive Giulietta in Milan while on an assignment with BMW. A photograph shows that Julia looks much like Giulietta, which convinces Julia of the relationship. Vincent, having lost contact with Vincenzo, wants Julia to deliver a letter to him. Julia sets off on a quest to locate Vincenzo and uncover her Sicilian paternal family’s secrets. She is assisted by Giovanni, Vincenzo’s uncle, a hard-working grocery store owner.

This long novel weaves four storylines into an exciting plot. Although told in alternating timelines, the persuasive writing (and perfect translation) with its delineated segments keeps us oriented. In addition to the love stories, the development of the Iso Isetta (the “bubble-car”) and descriptions of other upscale European automobiles by renowned manufacturers, such as BMW and Alfa Romeo, add appeal to the novel. German industrial development in the post-WWII era and the exploitation of guest workers from other countries, notably Italy, are covered in some depth. Descriptions of Sicilian family life on the remote, idyllic islands are a pleasure to read. However, the harsh working conditions and the abuse these people endure in Germany, having gone there in search of a better future, are aptly narrated; it makes us feel their pain. We also learn a bit about the competitive world of designing fashionable clothing. This narrative about a Sicilian-German family’s saga of love, loss, and redemption is a page-turner.