A young woman, grieving the loss of her twin brother, leaves Italy and heads to the one place he’d always wanted to go – Shanghai. By day, she teaches Italian. By night, she seeks an end to the grief that consumes her. And then she meets Xu.
Blue Hunger, the fifth novel from Italian author Viola Di Grado, follows Ruben – taking her dead brother’s name – as she navigates the cultural shift of her international escape, while still blindsided by her loss. Translated by Jamie Richards, the writing is simply gorgeous, luring the reader in even as the plot takes some decidedly visceral turns.
Bright lights and city sights rub up against drug laden rendezvous in slaughterhouses, and nights spent at Xu’s apartment, surrounded by rotting food. Food, biting, and consumption, perhaps unsurprisingly, remain motifs throughout, an uneasy blend of delicacy, sensuality, and the grotesque.
It’s a fever-dream of a novel, a breathless, erotic, and often uncomfortable examination of what grief, loneliness, and a desperate search for answers can do. Seeking her lost twin in both a city and a relationship that threatens to overwhelm her, Ruben sinks far more than she swims.
That Xu is undeniably wrong for Ruben matters little; Blue Hunger is a novel about wrongness, just as it is about displacement, and the depths we sink to when assailed by inescapable grief. And yet there’s tenderness here too, a gentle personal reckoning brewing even as Xu simultaneously pushes Ruben away and draws her further in.
Blue Hunger won’t be for everyone – after all, what book is? – but its combination of rich, evocative writing, and oft unsettling content makes it near impossible to look away from the page.