Andrès is twenty years old, lives in Paris with his mother and has never met his father, Jean-Luc Auteuil, a.k.a. Gianluca Auterri, an acclaimed, much admired photographer who managed to capture history in one photograph. A few days before the opening of a solo show devoted to his work, Gianluca takes his own life, confessing in a letter that he is a fraud. Andres is angry: how is it possible to lose a person who has never really been around, not once but twice? How can you mourn a father who has abandoned you? Andrès certainly cannot abandon his mother, Martina, who has lovingly raised him and forged a unique and indestructible bond. Mother and son leave for Milan, as there is a funeral to attend and the deceased’s apartment to empty out. It is there that Andrès comes across a room covered with photos of himself as a child and as he grows up. The one sure thing he has had in his life comes apart- why did his father abandon them? Was he really the selfish and superficial man he has always pictured? Consumed by doubt and seized by curiosity, one night he returns to his father’s apartment and there he finds a letter and his diary. In those pages he discovers Gianluca’s version of his own unexpected success, a chronicle of his relationship with Martina, and of his son’s own birth. Which one of his parents is telling the truth? Is anyone right? By rummaging through his parents’ past, Andres discovers the only possible truth, i.e., that there is no truth. Dripping pain in his writing, Daniele Morgese raises the point that, just like a photograph, every story has its negative, its inverse version and mirror image. Most of all, children and parents are all human beings, each with their own dreams, foibles, fears and pettiness, reflecting images of each other, they are mutual mirrors revealing fragments of one another.
Excerpts from the novel
Pages 74-75 of Italian edition
[…] But that’s not all. There is something else. A note added with less confident strokes, even the ink looks different from the rest of the diary. Each word is a further step in the direction of denser, more muffled clouds. “If genetics is no joke, you’ll be first one to lay your hands on this diary. Do whatever you like with it. Burn it, destroy it, but if I can give you a piece of advice, the only one in my life, after all, read it. Not so that you can forgive me, not so that you can understand, do it just to listen to my words, hear my version. Goodbye Andrès .”
Without warning, my face was flooded with an unstoppable stream of tears. I was sobbing, as an acidic, throbbing pain scraped my chest from the inside. He really did. He left something for me. He guided me towards this diary, and he did it consciously, convinced that I would ultimately end up with his memories, get them into my hands. How did he manage to orchestrate it all? I keep wondering how he did it. Yet for the second time in such an absurd day like this one, I discovered he could anticipate my moves. Basically, then, there must be a connection between us. Forged by the same hand and now inextricable, we find ourselves as close as we have ever been. Empty and excited, I feel like a child glimpsing his father in the stands watching him during a football match. Anxious, eager to make him proud but at the same time terrified of not living up to his bragging to other spectators, the ones he is telling, “That’s my boy, my champ!”
Pages 109- 110 of Italian edition
Who would have put a stop to all those expressions of jubilation, all that esteem carelessly pouring out, and with a smile half way between embarrassed and guilty utter, “Look, there has been a mistake, a sensational misunderstanding”, or perhaps, ” It wasn’t my intention to take that picture, it was pure coincidence “, in front of all those respectable protagonists of the press, representatives of the most important and best-selling newspaper in Italy:” Look, it is pure chance that just as I was taking that picture of Martina those two appeared in the background “. Or even, “It’s not Martina who is the intruder in that shot, just the opposite.” Anyone would have done it, right? After all, it is still me who took the photo. That shot belongs to me, as does the roll on which it was imprinted and the camera that made it. I was the one who took it, it was me in Berlin at the time. Yes, it may have been a simple stroke of luck, but it’s still my stroke of luck. And not taking advantage of it would be sheer madness. Sure, we’re talking about a simple shot, nothing more than what Americans call a “hot shot”. But at the same time it is the photo that stands proudly on most of the newspapers and magazines published this week, a picture everyone in Italy has probably seen. A shot that would still be recognizable over the years, inextricably tied to November 9th of eighty-nine. No big deal, I haven’t lied. I was careful not to boast too much of my success, on the contrary. I maintained a certain humility, a calm modesty capable of covering up a simple omission. I haven’t stolen, or worse, defrauded anyone. Yes, but why then do I feel a screaming and burning sensation in the pit of my stomach, my chest tightening and refusing to release my breath? Even my back is starting to hurt. I hope all of this will soon be over.
I am considering the idea of labeling today the worst day ever in my life, on the par with the time when, at the very beginning of our dating days, Martina left me in the lurch just for being less than half an hour late. At the time, after she had poured out all her anger, I even thought that she had broken up with me. She called me inconclusive and unreliable. I was dumbfounded, unable to defend myself or argue in an effort to return those accusations to the sender. Maybe it was even worse today. Definitely, without the maybe. I spent the whole day following Marco, shooting portraits of this or that politician, only to discover that I had put in the second roll the wrong way and had wasted my shots. A disaster of cosmic dimensions that I managed to solve with a few appropriately placed phone calls and some aperitifs and dinners offered to the right people. A process that, however, took most of the morning and mid-afternoon. This caused the rest of the chores to be postponed by hours so I completely forgot to pass by the pharmacy and buy I don’t know what for the baby. Obviously I remembered it just as I set foot in the house and Martina welcomed me with what was consistently her expression in that period and which seemed to say, “Do you have any idea what time it is?” Having admitted that I had forgotten and having ascertained that by now the pharmacies were definitively closed and that the one on duty was too far away, she repeated to me, “It’s the usual story. I can never count on you”. From there it was a descent into hell and I no longer even remember exactly how it went. I simply told her that it had been a horrible day and that I was really feeling low. She lowered her gaze, shrugged her shoulders and started to leave the room. At that point I lost it and burst out that she could have gotten her butt off the couch and gone to the pharmacy herself, considering that she hadn’t been working for months and that I knock myself out from morning to night to feed her and the baby. An expression half-way between dumbfounded and annoyed appeared on her face. And then it happened […]
Pages 296-8 of Italian edition
Bari 8 August 1991
This morning Lorenzo called me from a phone booth at the harbor where he had gone to take care of some chore with Viviana’s father. He simply said, “Take your camera and rush here. You must come immediately; all hell is breaking lose here.” His usual melodramatic self.
It’s atrociously hot here. My mother claims that it is 40 degrees Celsius, but for her it’s always 40 degrees whenever she lacks the wherewithal to cook or to iron. My simple reply to Lorenzo’s demand was “Yes, I am on my way”, without asking myself too many questions. When you don’t go along with his requests, Lorenzo is capable of putting a lot of pressure on you. I asked my mother what time it was and first she answered that it was time for me to wake up, then, that it was “past eleven” with the reproaching tone used by those who do not accept other people keeping unseeming, immoral hours…
[…] A ship, unlike any other. One of those rickety merchant ships that seem to gush out rust from every bolt, with the loading and unloading cranes positioned on the bow to undermine its stability and balance, looking like a ship that is asking to be decommissioned and sent into retirement. In spite of the distance, I saw a mountain of bodies. Human bodies, belonging to human beings, half naked, waving their arms, dehydrated, flushed with heat, some of them celebrating others exhausted. Skin marked like parched soil, over rough bones. Fathers, sons, brothers, mainly men. Few women. Different physiognomies of our Mediterranean brothers. They are not Greek, are they Slavic, from Yugoslavia perhaps? The information we received was fragmentary but almost always correct. The dockworkers seem to always know more than anyone else. “They are Albanians, fleeing from the Communists.”
Daniele Morgese was born in 1986 in Terlizzi, Apulia, he has a Master’s degree in Contemporary European History from the University of Pavia. He is currently living in Genoa and teaching Italian Literature and History in high school. I negativi is his first novel.