Reading: Dandelions by Thea Lenarduzzi

“Behind the teller’s choices, conscious or otherwise, lies some kind of motivation, whether to entertain, to store for posterity, or to promote a particular image of herself” – Dandelions

The Book: A family biography of Thea Lenarduzzi’s family. Family within its various semantic fields; shifting from Italy to England, the family of mother and fatherlands. Grandmother centred in the field of view, with a focus shifting backwards and forwards in time and bringing sons, fathers, daughters, mothers into view. Or is that too clear a metaphor? There are no photos in the book, though there are photographers, and this nebulises the book, makes image blend into image in my head. Each image blends with images of the ‘old’, from other, flicked through, books.

“But the stuff of compensation – for what and for whom and to what end – grows murkier the longer you look.” – Dandelions

Concept: Dandelions as a rhizomatic phenomena, each plant grows with deep roots which touch the bedrock, each plant grows in branching, exploding centres which reach outward – the central stem with its emptiness and white fluid, out to the finely tooled leaves which also branch out, and the ‘lions teeth’ of the flower (which brings to mind a Vandermeeresque lion with a flower for a mouth) – and the seeds which themselves branch and then fly to branch again – a tree of life – a family tree.

Reading the book: Tapping into a dense network of memories of networks of memories. Sometimes I talk to my Grandma, as Lenarduzzi does (Though Lenarduzzi’s is a “Nonna”) and I try to tap into these networks. Lost brothers and sons, lost experiences and experiences missed. Tram networks in the past, and paths through the undergrowth. The neurons in a mind branch, and decay. The tombstones fill with lichen, branch, and decay – except insofar as they are upkept, and part of this book is such an upkeeping. Because it records so many lives, it is very intense to read. At 283 pages I finish feeling like I have lived with a book of 600 pages, so densely packed and recursive are the memories and experiences listed here. So much care for memory.

“‘You’ll always have Italian blood,’ she says.
And though I know this is a ridiculous and dangerous notion, I can’t say I don’t find some comfort in it.” – Dandelions”

Problematics: 

Fascism/Natalism: in this family history, like a weed, it recurs and recurs, its roots deep (materially deep, psychologically deep) rotten root traces – the traces of a non-material logic, the logic of race, of fatherland, of motherland, concepts which by custom extend beyond the material, into the unreal, and in ways that are beneficial to capital and entrenched interest (and have their own psycho-physiological tithe – it is so nice to be stupid, because you never know you are wrong. It is so nice to be planned, because there’s no pressure to be spontaneous – “ ‘the patriotic duty always comes first’ ”. What is boring is king. Lenarduzzi faces up to these ideas bravely, as one traces and cures rot in a flower bed of such beautiful flowers.

“‘I can’t even reach down for dandelions anymore,’ she says. ‘And, as you know, they are a cure for me, a true, true cure’” – Dandelions

Weed: a plant which annoys us (“to harm, hurt, injure; be troublesome or vexatious to, disquiet, upset,”), the supplement to a pure space (which Thenarduzzi explores, in the context of nationality) a plant which seems to spontaneously generate and be proscribed, which comes from elsewhere (even if it does not, in fact, come from elsewhere). But of course, like Nonna we can cook with them and eat them – food and weed are sometimes the same, pharmakon. I suggested to my partner that we try some Dandelions after reading this book, and she said, no. She also said that she “… always wants to talk like Thea Lenarduzzi.” Without a misplaced word.

“We all play these games of make believe […] We put our heart into it, and sometimes, I think, we leave it there. I count this as part of my inheritance.” – Dandelions

Morality: the process of recording memories moves in a space so full of moral investment that it’s impossible to move properly. We cannot be superior to our ancestors, for we are open to their faults. There is so much love, and so many transformations of love, in this book; the book as a transformation of love. Lenarduzzi writes a chapter relating the romance novel and its tropes mid century Italy. The note taker (whose cadence is preserved in this type of book, the notes-book, of which Fitzcarraldo and Aikens’ ‘The Naked Fear the Water’ is another example) must listen and preserve, and Lenarduzzi has that sense of value, that nothing is lost here, that each thing Nonna says, that the world speaks, is worth noting. The book is a fragment book, each fragment laid into one pavement of pages, like the terrazzo made by family members, each fragment more or less recognisable as a fragment, the whole hard to imagine when you’re among the pieces.

“I seek such order in all things. I impose it.” – Dandelions

Event: Lenarduzzi gives me occasion to delve into my own undergrowth of memory. She says that she wakes up from time to time making the motions of prayer from her childhood. I did this too, although I haven’t in a while – the motions that calm us after waking are deeper than thought. This is a book about Thea herself, though in a way I can’t parse, or in a sense of order in disorder, without a centre. But this is a book that, like us, rests squarely within the modern interpretation of history – history is a nightmare, from which we are trying to wake. But in the meantime, the best thing to do is to make devotions to our fellow sleepers. This book is such a devotion.

I requested and received a free review copy of this book from Fitzcarraldo editions. You can get it here.

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