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the law of white spaces

The stories in Giorgio Pressburger’s The Law of White Spaces, are about ordinary humans encountering what we think of as extraordinary illnesses: brain tumors, brothers that all die of something related to their legs, cancer, aphasia, dementia. Written in Italian and translated to English, the prose is clean and clear in that way translated books about Europe often are. It reminds me of Bulgakhov or Borges. Reading about odd ailments and the way people deal with them has a voyeuristic quality that I think Pressburger encourages. His approach is both visual and psychological, but the focus is on what people do, not what they see or think. Despite being published in 1989, there is an old-world feeling, especially with regard to gender roles. The stories are by turns disturbing, touching, funny, and tragic.

I believe part of the point of the stories is that the suffering we go through in unusual circumstances is really part of the same life pattern that we all face, no matter how we live and die. Some people react to unusual circumstances with dramatic action, others by steadfastly adhering to their routines, and others with combinations of the two. But this is the same way we deal with more normal situations and, because we deal with them in essentially the same ways, the distinction between the ordinary and the extraordinary breaks down. Our pain and how we deal with it makes us human and we are both significant and insignificant, prosaic and poetic.

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