Publication Date: Feb 19, 2019
A moving firsthand account of migrant landings on the island of Lampedusa that gives voice to refugees, locals, and volunteers while also exploring a deeply personal father–son relationship.
On the island of Lampedusa, in the southernmost part of Italy, between Africa and Europe, Davide Enia looks in the faces of those who arrive and those who wait, and tells the story of an individual and collective shipwreck. On one side, a multitude in motion, crossing entire nations and then the Mediterranean Sea under conditions beyond any imagination. On the other, a handful of men and women on the border of an era and a continent, trying to welcome the newcomers. In the middle is the author himself, telling of what actually happens at sea and on land, and his desperate attempt to make sense of it all.
Enia reveals the emotional consequences of this touching and disconcerting reality, especially in his relationship with his father, a recently retired doctor who agrees to travel with him to Lampedusa. Witnessing together the public pain of those who land and those who save them from death, alongside the private pain of his uncle’s illness, pushes them to reinvent their relationship, to forge a new and unprecedented dialogue that replaces the silences of the past.
Excerpt from Notes on a Shipwreck
The volunteers offered them cookies and cakes and hot tea. They said to each girl: “Welcome.” The girls thanked them in low voices, “Merci,” “Thank you,” a little bow, a faint smile. They held the tea with both hands, close to their faces, to warm themselves at its touch. More thermal blankets were distributed. Paola went around collecting the packaging of the cookies and cakes and the empty plastic cups. She’d talk with the girls: “Where do you come from?” “D’où venez-vous?” “Welcome,” “Bienvenue.”
She was smiling, as was Alberto, as were the other volunteers.
I was overwhelmed.
Paola came to my aid.
“Do you think that after everything they’ve been through, we can’t welcome them with at least a smile? Come on, go get a thermos and pour some tea for the girls.”
In the tent staffed by the medical personnel, the girls with the signs of scabies between their fingers were being tended to. There were two of them. They were waiting for the ambulance to come back.
There was only one bus, and in order to take them all to the Center, it had to make four trips. While they were waiting, the girls leaned against the low wall. Some of them sat on the ground.
Only then did I realize that there wasn’t even a portable toilet on the wharf.
“What about when it rains?” I asked Paola.
“We all get wet, us and them,” she replied.
My father was hunched on a rock near the metal gate. He’d mounted the new lens on his camera.
Okay, I told myself, at least here’s a serious reason not to burst into tears.
I couldn’t cry in front of my father.
Not even if it killed me.
I distributed cookies and cakes and tea.
“Subtle meditation and devastating detail combine in this journalistic memoir…A potent narrative that builds from matter-of-fact observation through horrific experience toward a metaphysical acceptance that is something like a state of grace.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Praise for On Earth as It Is in Heaven:
“Enia, a playwright, is as adept at capturing the chaotic vibe of his native city…as he is at depicting the quick, furious violence of the boxing ring and the casual brutalities of boyhood.” —New York Times Book Review
“A gripping multigenerational saga…in Shugaar’s nimble translation, the disparate themes and story lines come together naturally…challenging and intensely emotional.” —Booklist
“Remarkable…Enia writes with passion and, though his savage subject matter rarely permits it, humor…He gives his readers a fully realized world.” —New Criterion