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Lost Hearts in Italy    by Andrea Lee order for
Lost Hearts in Italy
by Andrea Lee
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

When the dust settles after an affair that breaks up a marriage, what happens next to all who were involved? That is the question underlying Lost Hearts in Italy.

When the book opens, Mira and Nick are newlyweds. Mira, who is half-black, marries blond golden boy Nick. Both grew up privileged and American. The two decide to live abroad, and while Nick has already settled in Rome, Mira meets Zenin on the flight that is taking her to her new husband and new country. Zenin, who is twice Mira's age, a native Italian, and an influential man, pursues her for a few years before Mira finally falls under his spell and becomes embroiled in a secret affair. Inevitably, Mira and Nick's marriage breaks up.

The book weaves back and forth in time to when the affair began in the middle 1980s until present day, and alternates perspectives between each of the three main characters. A small section at the end of each chapter is told from the viewpoints of the many minor figures, some of whom made the briefest of appearances. The point was to show that while we may perceive ourselves one way, others might be able to see parts of ourselves of which we are unaware.

The provocative language conjures beautiful images of Italy, which becomes a metaphor for Nick and Mira's marriage. At first it's exciting and mysterious; eventually, though it becomes confusing and muddled. Underlying themes in the book are the feeling of being a foreigner, both within yourself and your place of residence; how hearts can be lost to non-native countries and ways of life; and how a person can be transformed by another person or by a country that isn't their own.

Lee's eloquent, thoughtful prose swirls across the pages, and she makes many astute observations about human nature. Nonetheless, I was not drawn to the characters, nor did I understand their motivations for much of what happened in the book.

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