Book Review: 'The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico'

A review of the pocket-sized paperback The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico by Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi. It was recently translated by Tim Parks.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. This past spring, when the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi died, he left behind a long trail of fiction, poems and articles in his native language, among them a story collection that's now been translated into English by Tim Parks. It's a square-shaped, pocket-size paperback called "The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico," and our reviewer Alan Cheuse thoroughly enjoyed it.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The title story, a gorgeous quasihistorical tale takes us to a garden in early summer where a monk, who happens to be the great 15th century Italian painter, is picking new onions, an enormous bird lands in a nearby tree, a bird whose wings are made - we hear - of different colored feathers. The feathers are ochre, yellow, deep blue and an emerald green, the color of a kingfisher, and every now and then, Tabucchi tells us, they opened like a fan. Soon, another bird arrives and another.

And then a huge dragonfly appears to the sleeping monk in his cell and commands him to paint these visitors. The monk takes up a brush and begins. That seems to be something of what Tabucchi himself has done, portraying a series of weird and beautiful visions - a letter from the king of Portugal to the great Spanish painter Goya, a letter from the immortal goddess Calypso to Odysseus, the story of a mid-14th century Portuguese prince with a monumental love and a monumental sense of revenge - and these are only half the pieces gathered here, portrayed in a prose that creates a deep, near-profound and sometimes heart-wrenching nostalgia and constantly evokes the pain of recognizing the speed of life's passing which everyone knows but few have the strength to accept. A small book, yes, and wonderfully thought-provoking and beautiful.

CORNISH: This story collection by Antonio Tabucchi is called "The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico." Our critic is Alan Cheuse. His most recent book is called "Paradise."

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