Porta Romana

Fifty-plus and single, Emilio Lastrucci wakes up in hospital with severe memory loss. What has happened? He has only vague memories of the past. Who can tell him more about himself? His character’s quest leads from Vevey in Switzerland to Rome and Florence and takes him from hotels and lodgings to old houses, friends and one close relative. He also meets an old flame, a woman he lived with for three years. ‘Look at me,’ she whispers. ‘Can’t you see who I am?’

Original title
Porta romana
Robbert Welagen

It takes Lastrucci a great deal of effort to rediscover himself, but in the house where he was born a peaceful sensation comes over him. With instinctive haste he decides to buy the house, despite its neglected state. Porta Romana is a classic story of the search for identity, a subject Welagen has touched upon before. Most striking, however, is his clear, perfectly composed way of telling a story. There is not so much as an echo of the pace and character of today’s world. In fact it rather seems as if Welagen has modelled Lastrucci’s story on images from old films: ‘A bag blew against his leg and then tumbled on over the paving stones.’

The atmosphere is reminiscent at times of the masterworks of 1970s Italian and French cinematography. It has a grainy restraint, while also being sexy in its own remarkable way. In any attempt to describe Welagen’s novel further, the term ‘retro’ becomes unavoidable as a way of making clear that we are dealing not with old-fashioned prose but with work in which the author purposefully makes use of images and styles from another period and discipline.

Welagen performed the same feat in his earlier novels. There it was contemporary art that inspired him to create his muted images and it has been said he ‘writes like a painter’. Porta Romana demonstrates the same unusual way of working, manifesting artistic richness and great expressive power.

An unfashionable but impressive novel.

Het Financieele Dagblad

Robbert Welagen manages to make the loneliness of his Emilio Lastrucci understandable in a very restrained and controlled way.

Robbert Welagen
Robbert Welagen (b. 1981) is a Dutch author of nine novels as well as a number of short stories. He lives in the woods outside Zeist.
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