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Book Review: 'The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico'

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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.


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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