Novel Imagines One True Love For Casanova
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris. Giacomo Casanova's love life is the stuff of legend. By his own count he had 122 lovers, but whether he truly loved them all, well, that's another story. There was one who did capture Casanova's heart. Her name was Lucia.
ARTHUR JAPIN (Author): She's 14, he's 17, and both of them, it's the very first time. And they fall in love, and they have never felt anything like it before, and they can't imagine that they ever will feel like that again. So they pledge each other eternal love.
NORRIS: Dutch novelist Arthur Japin found this brief antidote about the burning flame of teenage love while reading Casanova's sprawling 18th century memoirs. The affair between Casanova and Lucia ends tragically. In the memoirs, Lucia disappears without warning. Casanova is left behind and left to wonder why his bride to be abandoned him.
Mr. JAPIN: He's just so hurt, and he makes a decision which actually turns him into the man we know him as now. Never to enter into a long- term relationship. Never to be that hurt again. And somewhere he says, from now on when I see love, I'll pluck it, I'll eat it and throw it away. And that's what he does.
NORRIS: Casanova writes of rediscovering Lucia years later. He comes across her in an Amsterdam brothel. She is working as a prostitute. Arthur Japin became fascinated by the elusive Lucia, perhaps the only woman Casanova ever loved. Japin's latest novel creates Lucia's life in 18th century Europe. First written in Dutch, and now translated in English, the story is called In Lucia's Eyes. The author imagines his Lucia down to the details of what she might have worn.
Mr. JAPIN: She wore a veil, which she had to because at a certain point she gets the pox and her face is horribly deformed, disfigured.
Mr. JAPIN: Smallpox. Now at this point when she awakes from this disease and finds herself so horribly deformed, and Casanova is about to come back, she is torn between these two sides of her. Her intuition wants him to come back as soon as possible and she, she would throw herself at his feet if he still would like to have her with that face of hers. At least it would be someone to take care of her. But her reason also speaks up and tells her, well, if he still wants you with that face of yours, it's probably out of pity and you would make him unhappy. And she is torn between these two things, and then decides to disappear. So her only way to get, once she is in Amsterdam, to get customers, is to wear this veil. And she finds also that men find this even more intriguing because they want to know what's under there. So she becomes pretty successful at that.
NORRIS: What was it in her life that resonated in your own life?
Mr. JAPIN: I think it must have been this feeling of isolation, and that's something that relates to me personally, to my childhood. I grew up very isolated, and for a long time growing up in school had great difficulty trying to belong. But I think it's that little personal thing, and it happens every time when I see somewhere a character in history that interests me so much that I want to start writing about them. Somewhere I think, oh, it's me again. I used to be an actor, and what I do is still just put on a mask and put on a costume and enter a different age, but it's somewhere behind the mask, or behind the veil in this, case there's me.
NORRIS: I understand that the translation was particularly challenging because there is a Dutch word for deformity.
Mr. JAPIN: Yes.
NORRIS: That lends a certain weight and surprise to Lucia's character, but I understood there is no English equivalent for that.
Mr. JAPIN: No, we couldn't find, it mainly has to do with the title. I would have wanted it to be in the title.
NORRIS: What was the Dutch title?
Mr. JAPIN: Oh, well you have to, it sounds horrible. In Dutch it is Schitterend Gebrek, which is like a beautiful defect almost. You also have to understand it is a very personal story. I mean all my books are. So what I found out through my, there are, things can happen to you when you're young that make you feel deformed. And at a certain point you think, well, this has changed me so much I will never be able to have a normal life, to be with people, to be in society. And then suddenly, if you have the time enough, you live long enough, you find the right people in your path. And suddenly you find that this deformity of your past, this strangeness you have, this solitude or the pain or the grief, suddenly is like a prize possession because that allows you to be different. That's the reason I write now. And Lucia in the book somehow finds that, too. That this sad past of hers brings her to a knowledge about love and about life that she would not have had otherwise.
NORRIS: Well since this is a novel about the woman who had such influence over Casanova's life, it's not surprising that it's really about love, the power of love and the realization that in search of love sometimes you already have what you're looking for. I'm wondering if you'd read from a specific passage.
Mr. JAPIN: Sure.
NORRIS: In the book for us, it begins on page 220.
Mr. JAPIN: Ah yes.
NORRIS: Maybe you could explain.
Mr. JAPIN: Yes. You have to understand, when they meet again in 1758 in Amsterdam, when they're older, he doesn't know it's her but she sees him. And there's this boy of 17 that she loved so much way back then, turned into this ruthless lover. A man who loves with his mind and not with his heart. And she understands it has to do with her decision of all those years ago. And through the book she comes to a realization about love, and actually she understands that she with this tough life of hers, has learned much more about love than he with all his wonderful adventures. And then somewhere at the end of the book she says this, "Everything comes down to this. The reason for every word I have written and every word I will write. I am recounting my life for you so that you may know this secret without the pain of discovering it. We are unhappy because we think that love is something we require from someone else. Our salvation depends on a simple gesture that is none the less the most difficult act we can perform. We must give away the thing we most long for. Not to receive, but to give. So do we conjure triumph from defeat. This is the lesson of the life forced upon me by my imperfection."
NORRIS: So what was that lesson?
Mr. JAPIN: Well all my life, also, this is also in the text, but this is also something I've experienced myself. You see people running around wanting love, wanting to get it from someone else. And somewhere it's like finding a switch in a dark room. It's very difficult to find, but once you've found the switch and you turn it, it's almost incredible that you've never found it before. There's also some point, sitting in a train or a bus, you see someone who has been so drained by life, who is so empty. And you just give them one thought and you sort of say to them, in your mind, hey I'm with you, I'm there for you. And that simple action starts a whole machinery of energy, almost, and those people will never know it. I don't even know if it really helps them, but it is the energy within yourself that sort of starts rolling. And that, in a larger way, is I, what I think love is all about. You give and you receive ten-fold.
NORRIS: You have to lift the veil.
Mr. JAPIN: You have to lift the veil, exactly.
NORRIS: Arthur Japin, thanks so much for coming in and talking to us.
Mr. JAPIN: Thank you very much.
NORRIS: Arthur JAPIN's novel is called In Lucia's Eyes.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.