If You Kept a Record of Sins


Translated from by

Published: 3/23/2021





Book Description

A sly, prismatic novel that Jhumpa Lahiri says “accumulates with the quiet urgency of a snowstorm,” by Andrea Bajani, whom Michael Cunningham calls “a true original.” If You Kept a Record of Sins records the indelible marks a mother leaves on her son after she abandons their home in Italy for a business she’s building in Romania. Lorenzo, just a young boy when his mother leaves, recalls the incisive fragments of their life – when they would playfully wrestle each other, watch the sunrise, or test out his mother’s mysterious, mythical invention. Now a young man, Lorenzo travels to Romania for his mother’s funeral and reflects on the strangeness of today’s Europe, which masks itself as a beacon of Western civilization while iniquity and exploitation run rampant. With elliptical, piercing prose, Bajani tells a story of abandonment and initiation, of sentimental education and shattered illusions, of unconditional love.

Andrea Bajani’s haunting portrait of a mother-son relationship accumulates with the quiet urgency of a snowstorm. The impact is shattering, pure. With themes of distance and dislocation at its heart, this celebrated novel by one of Italy’s most talented young writers now resonates in English thanks to Elizabeth Harris’ limpid translation.
Jhumpa Lahiri

If You Kept a Record of Sins is written with grace and calm control. It deals with loss, especially the loss of a mother, with a chiseled sense of truth. Each image and each moment are captured with exquisite emotional accuracy. The connection between the past and the present is dramatized with skill. The protagonist is, like the author himself, someone on whom nothing is lost.
Colm Tóibín

Andrea Bajani’s If You Kept a Record of Sins is a beautiful, original, and deeply moving work of art.  It would be a gift at any time in history and is all the more so now, as the world moves through one of its darker periods.
Michael Cunningham

Lorenzo travels to Bucharest to bury his dead mother. While there, he discovers that the trauma of their separation has lasted his entire life. The incredible emotion achieved here can only be described as magical, emanating from the novel’s sober, reserved tone; from its resigned voice that neither judges nor condemns; from its nostalgic bursts of memory of a childhood both happy and sad. A short, stoic novel, of a realism reaching toward hallucination and a squalor leading to despair, a love letter and a requiem for an absent mother—Andrea Bajani’s If You Kept a Record of Sins is an unforgettable book. Together with the author, we wait, enthralled, for the break of dawn, when all the lights will go out.
Mircea Cărtărescu

The adept, patient style of the novel leaves lots of room for the reader to make their own appraisal of the choices of his mother, Lula, and their impact on the life of the child Lorenzo was and the adult he is now.
Declan O'Driscoll

A slim, astonishing book . . . Bajani etches an impressionistic portrait of a young man — like the foreign city outside his window — trapped in a shadow land between past and present.
Anderson Tepper, The New York Times Shortlist

. . . Throughout, family trauma parallels the collective trauma of an oppressed people, with no solace in the past and no real agency in the future. Bajani brings the full weight of his qualities as a poet, journalist, and professor of European Studies to bear, revealing in finely wrought prose the lasting scars of heartbreak on his characters and the body politic. This is deeply affecting.
Publisher's Weekly, starred review

One of Italy’s greatest writers, here in a translation that captures the ruminative beauty of Bajani’s words. An elegy, a requiem, a reckoning, a broken portrait of an absent mother, If You Kept a Record of Sins is a jewel of a book. You will hold it to your heart when you are done.
Andrew Sean Greer, winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Less

Every search is a search for oneself. In Andrea Bajani’s novel, the search for the lost mother reveals not only the true protagonist of the story, but a scathing portrait of Western culture and its greed and selfish lust for power. Bajani has written a wise, lyrical, beautifully stylized book that clings for long in the reader’s memory. I couldn’t put it down.
Alberto Manguel

When a child is slowly abandoned by a parent, who does he or she grow up to become? Bajani answers the novel’s central question by skipping back and forth in time, weaving together scenes that show us, with devastating clarity, the unraveling of a relationship between a mother and her son, a tapestry of loss woven with quiet power and flawless artistry.
Naheed Patel, Public Books

After years of gradually widening distance between them, a man learns some truths about his absent mother when he travels abroad to bury her and settle her business affairs...Bajani’s spare prose delivers startling imagery...as well as quiet reflection as Lorenzo addresses the departed Lula as he moves around her chosen home away from home....Bajani’s lovely, quiet novel lives at the intersection of love and misunderstanding.
Kirkus, starred review

What do you say to the dead, especially if the one who died is the one who bore you? This is the question Andrea Bajani wrestles with in this beautifully rendered letter from a son to his estranged mother. The story is woven together around a handful of central mysteries. . . and the way is marked by a handful of enigmatic images: an egg you can climb inside, a palace you can see from the moon, a river you cross to take a photograph on the far bank, a photograph you will leave for your son, which will tell him all he needs to know.
Nick Flynn

Borgesian brevity, a lesson in intensity. A book of rare beauty, an ambiguous and very intelligent document—leaving the reader a great deal of liberty—on the lack of communication between people and the difficulty in accepting the truth about your own mother.
Enrique Vila-Matas

Writing such as this makes me happy again, and it gives me comfort, because it is itself a form of resistance.
Antonio Tabucchi

Elizabeth Harris has done incredible work in her translation, which in its continually sharp, clipped language reflects the stripped-down nature of the original. These qualities are not only relevant on a linguistic or stylistic level, but also in terms of the novel’s central characters, the hollowed-out voice of Lorenzo, a man who never describes his own emotions, as if he too wanted to be as empty as that infamous egg, an inheritance from his mother.
Brian Robert Moore, Reading in Translation

This is a story of abandonment that lets fall revelations in delicate, tight prose the way a child might drop pennies into a creek. The ripples are deeply felt.
Bibi Deitz, Coveteur

[Bajani's] calm, elegant prose stands on its own, defying commentary. Bajani understands how the wounded often remain wounded, cut off from others and themselves. Such is the tragedy of the human story, which is somehow made less tragic by his remarkable ability to illuminate it for us.
Elaine Margolin, Los Angeles Review of Books

Part of a brilliant new generation of Italian writers that includes names like Paolo Giordano, Elena Ferrante, and Mirko Sabatino.
Fernando Hernández Urías, Chilango

These stories are about the subtleties of human exchange, micro commutes between one activity and another . . . The characters, their circumstances, the awkward, familiar touches of humor remind me a bit of Miranda July's stories, but just of a different generation.
Stephanie Malak

Bajani is confirmed as a keen and sensitive traveler, one of the best Italian writers of the moment.
Francis M. Cataluccio, Il Sole 24 Ore

Without a doubt one of the most powerful voices from the generation of authors born in the 1970s.
Guadalupe Nettel, Revista UNAM

'You started leaving when I was young.' Plangent, particular, haunting, sorrow-sodden, this novel about a mother’s death is also an indelible story of abandonment and yearning, of loss before loss, of loss within loss, and of pain and love mixed together – a bill from the past always redelivered with compound interest.
Barbara Epler, TANK Magazine

How are we remembered? Where do blame and grief meet? . . . Rather than judgement, Bajani’s method is one of lyrical indirection. From resentment to alienation, tenderness to anger, and indifference to joy, Lorenzo’s feelings are never stated outright, instead emerging sideways – from the background noise he doesn’t recognise . . . Bajani’s irresistibly spare narrative tracks our attempts to make sense of and judge one another.
Jessica Payn, Arts Desk

When I read Se consideri le colpe I was deeply impressed: I found it at once masterful and very touching.
Emmanuel Carrère

One measure of a novel's impact and even of its significance might be how its premise, its characters, its locations and spectacle remain in one's mind after time has passed. Andrea Bajani's truly exceptional novel -- eccentric and impassioned, but also frequently oblique, startling and provocative, visits and revisits me, always leaving me slightly shaken, but also mindful of why novels are all the more an essential form in our conduct of life, and in our efforts to see life clearly. If You Kept a Record of Sins is one of those very strange and compelling novels that never relents in its vision, and forcefully insists, as one its gifts, that the reader be a part of that vision. It's remarkable.
Richard Ford

Beautifully written, If You Kept a Record of Sins reverberates profoundly with the loneliness of its characters -- haunting in the voice of Lorenzo, reaching out to a mother who is no longer -- and never really was -- there.
M.A. Orthofer, complete review

The magic of this story lies entirely in the telling—in the delicate balancing of select, sharply depicted images within a spare, measured narrative that simmers with barely restrained emotional tension . . . Reading fiction this well-crafted is a joy.
Joseph Schrieber, Rough Ghosts

This is a novel of alienation – and a great one. Bajani is a master of emotional restraint and stylistic economy, his sparse Italian prose (admirably rendered, in equally sparse English, by Elizabeth Harris) amplifying the novel’s sense of estrangement . . . a book of haunting, unsettling beauty.
Costica Bradatan, Times Literary Supplement

Brad Listi hosted Andrea Bajani on his podcast Otherppl! Their conversation is available now. It has also been featured on Lithub Radio.