· The Quatuor of African Novels in a single ebook
· Zapinette Baguette and Tagliatelle
· Eur-African Exiles
· Leodine of the Belgian Congo
· Adopted by an American Homosexual in the Belgian Congo
· Princes and Gods
· I-sraeli Syndrome
· Rome, my sibling, my empress
· Ode to Mamica mia, Mother beloved
· Mother beloved, Mamica mia
· The age of the pearl
· New York Bonus
· The spell of Mayaland
· Fast food Lisette
· Souk Secrets
· Spirit of Tar
· The writer as a chameleon - bilingualism in three continents
· Crisis and creativity in the new literatures in English
· To my fellow poets
· Pixel power, from his book, CWS2
· Lost identity
· Emotionally trashed
· Remembrance of a corrected past
· The little things that add up in life
· Cormorant of Yangshuo, from his book Futureyes
· Call of the Falasha, from his book Futureyes
· Now, then and forever, from his book CWS2
· Choo-choo boy, from his book CWS2 (The Crowded World of Solitude, volume2)
· Life Achievement Award for Literature
· fiction, poetry and photo books by Albert Russo
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Oh Zaperetta! (Xlibris)
THE LITERARY REVIEW
“... Be warned, Zapinette's gems of insouciant wit tend to become infectious. This wise-child's deceptively worldly innocence takes the entire gamut of human endeavor in its compass. Hardly anyone or anything escapes unscathed. Jackson,Freddy Mercury, Mao Zedong, the Pope, Fidel Castro, and even Jesus of Nazareth all come under Zapinette's delightfully zany fire as she "zaps" from topic to topic in an irrepressible flux. As the century of the double zeros dawns, we have seen the future and the future is sham. As a healthy dose of counter-sham, Zapinette Video should be on every brain-functional person's reading list.”
WORLD LITERATURE TODAY: In the world of creative art, nothing can be more exciting and at the same time rarer and riskier (for the creator as well as for that creator's audience) than when an artist, who has established and settled within certain well-defined artistic limits, suddenly takes off on a new tangent into a completely different subrealm of that same art. It happens more often in music than in literature. Bach dared embark on a Kaffee Kantate , Verdi turned from Otello to Falstaff , and Haydn relished surprises throughout his career, not only at the end of one syrnphony. On the other hand, Colette did whip off a libretto for Ravel's L’enfant et Les sortilèges , as did W. H. Auden and E. M. Forster (no less) for Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd ; but Sigmund Freud never wrote limericks, and Lewis Carroll, for sure, would never have dared attempt a sequel to Middlemarch . Well, surprise, surprise! What have we here? World Literature Today has already noted in its pages (see WLT 70:1, pp. 79-82) that Albert Russo is uncategorizable, but still, from the heartrending seriousness of his previous novels, all concerned with Africa, with the inextricable and excruciating skeins of colonial racism versus individual lives and loves, here we have a light-as-a-feather comedy of a twelve-year-old petite Française reflecting on life as she continues constantly to be astonished to find it, what with its mysteries et boule de gomme (the latter term being argot for pastilles, a medication impossible to swallow whole, having to loll upon the tongue until dissolving (the entire phrase, an excellent metaphor for all that is incomprehensible), and nothing is more mysterious and incomprehensible to her than the human comedy relating to matters sessuelles , whether they are mot, bis, or météro . In short, Zapinette is prone to malapropisms. She even hears them, willy-nilly, and reports on them as well as she can. Nevertheless, Russo is here still standing up for minorities and against the injustices inflicted upon them, in this case 1) children, whose thoughts and ideas, Russo maintains (and I think rightly), can be just as sophisticated as any adult's, even though they do not yet know how to articulate them in conventional terms adults or indeed other children might readily understand; and 2) sessuel deviants, who, whatever else might be said, are living human beings who have as much right to life, liberty, et cetera, as anybody else. At the same time he is 3) poking great ironic fun at that majoriry of the world's religions which seem to lead to more bloodshed than morality. Even the pope gets a lash of Russo's forked tongue. We readers chuckle along and even burst out laughing as we advance through this hilarious book, for it is very funny indeed; but we gather, we too willy-nilly, the serious messages underlying the frolicking bounce and jocular mode of the writing. From Sang Mêlé ou ton fils Léopold to Zapinette Vidéo , what an extraordinary evolution! Actually, we ought not to be all that surprised. We have already caught glimpses of Russo's impish humor throughout his oeuvre, often in his most serious passages, not least as put into relief during sexual clinches. Focusing his attention on the most grotesque of human prejudices, Russo has always kept us aware of the farcical, misconceived absurdities shared within in-groups, all in-groups, only previously the contexts were so utterly serious and we as readers were so caught up by their dramatic contexts that we may not have been aware of the technique, as old as Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the Greeks, of heightening horror by contrasting it with comedy. In Zapinette Video , for the first time chez Russo, we find the humor outrunning the serious, thereby exposing for example homophobia as grotesque and hypocritical. In this connection I find the character of Uncle Alberic, un mot sessuel as I caught glimpses of him through the necessarily distorting lenses of Zapinette's childhood, a most intriguing personality, and even took to daydreaming about what a great tragic hero he might make in a perfectly straight-forward serious novel. As on so many topics Zapinette hits upon, one longs to hear more. What would she herself say about this novel we are to imagine she has written if she could view it herself some twenty or thirty years hence? We appreciate that Russo knows more than he is allowing Zapinette to tell. I had better point out that there is not much plot as such, no more than necessary to pinpoint all the characters' stations in life and the directions of their movements within them. Her uncle rebaptizes her as Zapinette Video because she is constantly weighing the events life tosses her way in terms of what she has sat through or zapped, as the case may be, before the tiny screen known in anglophone countries as ‘the boob tube,’ and rest assured, Russo has his say on the image of the world that this technological miracle has inflicted upon today’s youth and the not-so-youthful too. Or rather, between the lines perhaps, the plot deals simply with the prepubescent Zapinette's transition to the portals of adolescence, where makeup suddenly interests her for reasons she cannot yet label. Eventually, glimmerings do come to her as to why adults make such a fuss about things sessuelles , along with a suspicion she will eventually be making just as much fuss herself. The book is a great ramble, rather like a chapterless Montaigne popping from one subject to the next, drawing connections no one else would ever have thought of, but with Groucho Marx, say, passing on hints over the writer's shoulder as to how to go about it. But trying to trace the line that motivates your sticking with a novel from its first to its last word is always idle work. I felt this idleness last year while reading Stevenson's Kidnapped and tried to analyze its unput-downableness, and concluded that only the word magic explained it. Some writers have it, some writers twist themselves into pretzels to approach it, other writers do not have it at all. Russo has it. I read prepublication proofs of Russo's novel (although passages are already being read aloud in intello circles) and I have not yet seen any reviews, yet I predict not only popular but critical success. Inevitably, some smart-ass critic is going to call it the Zazie dans le métro of the nineties, but any resemblance between the two is surely fortuitous and any comparisons can only rebound to Russo's advantage. Incidentally, pages 9-15 of the book proper contain an excellent avant-propos by jean-Luc Breton, which certainly should whet your appetite if my words fail to do so. It is scholarly, warm, human, and incisive, and makes me feel humble indeed. A quotation from the novel is imperative here: L'autre jour, Tonton Albéric m'a emmenée dans une galerie d'art modeme soi-disant très renommée et il s'est estazié - moi, ça m'a asphyxié et la vue et les méninges - devant des tableaux de Chat-Gale et de Pique-Assiette, le premier peignait des vaches pattes en I'air avec des mariés qui se promènent sur les toits des maisons, et I'autre dessinait des faces toute tordues avec parfois deux pifs et qu'un seul oeil, et iI paralt que ça vaut la peau des fesses. Il y avait aussi des Maudit-Yann, là tout le monde avait des gueules allongées comme s'ils étaient atteints du sida . Have yourself a good time. That is my advice to you. Leslie Schenk
Praise from Greg Herriges, author of “The Winter Dance Party Murders” and “Secondary Attachments”:
“Love Zapinette! Hysterical! The voice is wonderful! Laughing all the way through! Congratulations on a fine novel. I can't wait to get back to it.”
The literary Review
Oh Zaperetta! Albert Russo’s hilarious Zapinette trilogy
(Zapinette Video, Zapinette goes to New York and Euro-Zapinette)
Philadelphia, PA, USA. Xlibris Corporation. 2005. 475 pages.
$24.99 softcover, ISBN 1-4134-7014-9;
$34.99 hardcover, ISBN 1-4134-7015-7
Orders@Xlibris.com - www.xlibris.com
Review by David Alexander
Word count: 1,057
On the road to the 20th century the German poet Heinrich Heine wrote, "Give me a mask and I'll join the masquerade." At the turn of the 21st century, Albert Russo has written Oh Zaperetta!, a trilogy of novels that is an acerbically witty commentary on contemporary human foibles, which are dissected with clinical precision, diabolical humor and something of the grand satirical style of Voltaire or Montaigne. Russo's mask in this particular masquerade is the story's protagonist, a precocious preteen named Esmeralda McInnerny, who's been nicknamed "Zapinette" by the novel's other main character, her Uncle Alberic, called "Berky" by his inventive niece.
Voltaire wrote that to crush "the Infamy" of his time "it must first be rendered ridiculous." Our era's Infamy, like that of any age, is founded on hypocrisy. It is this that Russo ably attacks with Pasquinading relish from the first page to the last by donning his mask of a young Franco-American girl and commenting on the world she sees around her as she rambles through it in the company of her uncle.
The novels are not long on plot but don't need to be any more than past novels of their kind, among which I would include Mailer's Why Are We in Vietnam? and Nabakov's Lolita. Nor have Russo's past works relied strongly on plot as engines to drive the narrative. On the contrary, Russo's approach has been to take simple situations and then dismantle them to see what turns the hidden gears. In the process the reader often has shocking peeks into the clockwork mechanisms that underlie much of what we take to be reality. Behind the face of the timepiece may lurk a clandestine listening device. Within the marble skin of the Greek statue, a Venusian praying mantis waits to devour. The bard behind the Zapinette mask strips the masks from other less noble forms of artifice and lays bare the sometimes ugly subterranean truth.
For those who would like a quick précis of a representative book from the trilogy, I’ll synopsize the first novel, Zapinette Video: Esmeralda is the favorite niece of her "Unky Berky” who works for the French post office in a not clearly defined capacity (we gather he is some type of supervisor with much free time on his hands). She has been dubbed "Zapinette" because of her fondness for zapping her way through televisual media, from Nintendo games to rock videos. In many ways Zapinette's narrative is a form of self-generated rock video, the stream of consciousness by which she perceives the world. This, of course, connects to the book’s title and sums up the style in which the trilogy is written, but it's also a commentary on the way we more and more tend to view the world around us as a pastiche of disconnected and ambiguous images and sound bites that flash past our minds in an ever-accelerating kaleidoscope that seems to simultaneously energize and enervate.
But back to the plot -- Uncle Alberic is a native of Monza, Italy, and although superficially Francofied from his years of living in Paris, he nevertheless remains Italianate below the waterline. Alberic's longing for home forms the basis for the middle part of book one, where Zapinette and her uncle leave Paris on a tour of Italy. This gives Alberic's young charge lavish opportunities to lampoon some of the bastions of Western cultural tradition, from the Vatican to art film.
Zapinette Video’s other two main characters are Zapinette's mother, Laura, and her live-in lover, Firmin, who has recently fathered a child by Laura. Laura, who is Berky's sister, owns and operates a Parisian beauty parlor. She is a staunch feminist (or "felinist" in Zapinette-speak, about which more momentarily) who has a don't-tread-on-me attitude when it comes to men. This attitude is one reason why Zapinette's father is not in the picture -- he was a casualty of Laura's wrath some years before, leaving the American-born daughter in the care of her Parisian mother while going off to seek his fortune in the Amazon.
One of the devices Russo uses to make his point and to carry the narrative is the unending stream of Malapropisms, or more properly, "Zap-apropisms," that emerge from the mouth of this not-so-innocent young girl. They come rapid-fire, like a hail of machinegun bullets; they come in neo-Joycean flashes that wriggle and jump in the narrative stream like darting fish from the thought-dreams of Leopold Bloom striding through an Icarian Dublin. Should you chance to hook one of these delicious little minnows and roast it on the spit of your mind, you may never think the same again. My favorite Zap-apropism is "fonda-mentalist," which makes me think of Jane under an Ayatollah's turban, bearded and with eyes darkly ablaze.
Be warned, Zapinette's gems of insouciant wit tend to become infectious. This wise-child's deceptively worldly innocence takes the entire gamut of human endeavor in its compass. Hardly anyone or anything escapes unscathed. Michael Jackson, Vittorio de Sica, Freddy Mercury, Mao Zedong, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill and Hill, the Pope, Fidel Castro, and even Jesus of Nazareth all come under Zapinette's delightfully zany fire as she "zaps" from topic to topic in an irrepressible flux. Interspersed with Zapinette's first-person narrative and meta-portmanteau words are periodic Ripov stories, short-shorts that offer paradoxical and whimsical commentary on the rest of the plotline (Zapinette explains that Unky Berky pens these stories during slack time at La Poste).
Although the novels were originally written in French, Russo has skillfully turned them into American English translations that must surely be tantamount to a complete re-writing, since it's unlikely that the American-style idiomatic prose of the English versions could have been reproduced directly from French originals. Russo's command of the American idiom is always on the mark, as is his keen eye for sham in its many permutations.
As the century of the double zeros is now with us, we have seen the future and the future is -- well, here's how Zapinette might put it: The frying pan is on the stove. This is the future. We hold two eggs over the frying pan. This is your brain. We smash the eggs together and drop the yolks into the frying pan. This is your brain in the future. What you need is a dose of reality, fast. This is Oh Zaperetta!
Reviewed in INSCRIPTIONS magazine (spring 2000):
Pre-teen Esmeralda McInnerny lives in France with her Italian mother and sexually experimental uncle, Alberic. Unky Berky, as she calls him, has given her the nickname Zapinette. Zapinette spends her days obsessed with adult sexuality, which she does not completely correctly grasp. This does not stop her from drawing her own very strong conclusions about the adult world of sex.
The book is also sprinkled with short stories written by Unky Berky about a character named Ripov, who encounters many situations.
The plot of "Zapinette Video" is minimal. The action that takes place is merely a backdrop for Zapinette to paint her wacky conclusions on and for the character of Unky Berky to flit through.
Russo's characters make the book. Zapinette is wise beyond her years and yet is wildly ignorant about some things. As the narrator, her personalized language gives the book some wonderful humor. She refers to "sigh-kayak-trysts" (psychiatrists) and discusses with great fascination the fact that Unky Berky was once "heather setchual" and is now "homey." She also considers that he may be "bike" and is shocked to learn he is a "transvestit."
However, she is still a child and has many tantrums and childish outbursts towards her mother and uncle that reduce her to a low level in the reader's eyes. Unky Berky is fun to read about, but his Ripov stories may not enchant all readers. The other characters are minor, and provide some interesting humor.
Russo's writing style is extremely creative. His playfulness with language is one of the best aspects of the book. Skip this one if you are bothered by frank talk about sex and the use of taboo words. He shows no fear and brings forth the most shocking things from the mouth of Zapinette.
Beyond the enjoyable creativity, there is a deeper meaning to the story. Zapinette, who was abandoned by her father, clings to Unky Berky as her father figure and is plagued with worry that he will leave her. Her desperation is the somber current beneath the humor, and offsets it quite well. This is an excellent book and would be even better if the Ripov stories were minimized.
A WRITER'S CHOICE LITERARY MAGAZINE
A WRITER'S CHOICE LITERARY MAGAZINE : reviewed by Leslie Blanchard (spring 2000)
A hilarious, irreverent romp through the life of a child of the 90's! Set in Paris and Northern Italy, the work shows us the world through the eyes of Zapinette, a little girl who is smart, quick-witted, accepting and dazzling. Russo's use of slang language and spelling is just plain fun! The book is done in the stream of consciousness of a child and jumps from subject to subject providing a very detailed, if not explainable, roadmap through a child's thought process. A fun and enjoyable book. Give yourself and a friend a smile - buy and share this work!
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