Claudia Durastanti

Strangers I Know

This book redeemed my faith in Fitzcarraldo Editions. It’s a really beautiful read and the style works really well, immersing you into Durastanti’s life. Unmatched histories and emotional reflections, Durastanti narrates her life from various places she’s lived. From a small village in southern Italy, to a neighbourhood in Brooklyn and as well in London, she blurs the lines between fiction and memoir.

The chapters have no distinct chronology as they move, in a seemingly arbitrary way, through different parts of her life. In the end note she explains that this is to affect the experience of the reader, making it clear that there is no obvious entrance into or exit from a life. Each chapter feels like its own short story, as you piece together the mythology that makes up Durastanti’s life.

‘Stranger is a beautiful word, if you’re not forced to be one. The rest of the time, it’s just a synonym for mutilation, a gun we point at ourselves, and fire.’

Durastanti’s parents are very different people and are both deaf. Encouraging her not to learn sign language, communication is often misinterpreted, therefore she builds this mythology around her own history and that of her parents. She continues to paint this portrait of the way her relationship to her parents has shaped her own life and the emotional complexities this has brought her, formed by their simultaneous presence and absence.

An outsider in every way, she longs for a freedom she’s not even sure exists. She feels a distance from her parents as they deal with their own issues and place in the world. Wandering through a sense of self, she embodies her experiences as a comparison with the way she interprets how her parents participate in the world.

‘How can we suffer for someone when all we really share is biological intimacy?’

It explores the way we use language in our own lives and Durastanti’s own relationship with writing. The disconnect between what words mean to her as she transitions into adult life under the scrutiny of her body and psychological background. She talks about Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room and the semi-anechoic chamber John Cage visited. Considering how art can free an individual from difference, and difference from solitude. ‘I’ve learned that it is patient, that it pays attention to everything diverging from our normal sense of hearing.’

‘Words only mean something if they’re literal, and anything left over is a great waste of time and emotion: life is a silent, hypnotic seduction, and all the rest is failure.’

She makes comparisons with her friend's father who was an addict. Even if drug addiction isn’t classified as a lack of some ability, it is treated more like a form of generalised amnesia. If drug addiction was a form of amnesia, sobriety is an excess of memory. That yearning is a form of burning desire. ‘My mother was wrong when she said that drugs were similar to an orgasm, because orgasms end, but when we fall into addiction we never know if it will end, and we hope it never will; once we’re unwound, there’s no coiling us back the way we were.’

It’s a wonderfully captivating book and the approach maintains a distance where you feel a sort of unknowable intimacy. The interwoven stories induce feelings of nostalgia and contemplation as you reflect on your own relationship with the world. A beautiful read.

‘What space is left for desire when everything is so transparent?’