by Giacomo Fatuzzo
Two Souls in the Sun tells the compelling, fictional story of a lonely young Italian army officer who wanders through the vast desert that was the Libya of almost 100 years ago, just as the author, Giacomo Fatuzzo did. It unveils unfamiliar and desolate landscapes of breathtaking beauty and power and describes the strange yet enticing people and customs that the young officer encounters.
It was the age of colonialism - a time of unequal relationships between colonial soldiers and the indigenous populations, a time when natives were generally viewed as inferior. And it was a time of "bigger than life" desert legends like T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). But the book is not, as was typical at that time, the romanticized story (often a love story) of a dashing hero in a primitive land. Instead, it reveals the mind of a young officer that wanders further and further from what he has known and begins to generate chaotic thoughts that are a mixture of memories, dreams, hallucinations, dark desires, and reality. This leads to the emergence of the young officer's other "self" -- someone wild, angry, and radically different from the lonely Italian officer. His thoughts:
"Often I am startled when in front of a mirror, staring persistently at my eyes in order to understand the secret of my other self. I then back off with a sense of dread, because after an instant it seems to me that my look, usually calm and rested, has morphed into the look of a maniac, with flashes of wickedness that are unknown to me. My look becomes somebody else's, that of my other self; and I AM AFRAID."
The story that follows becomes a tale of conflict between the young officer's two selves, and it poses daunting questions for the reader: How well do we really know ourselves? Is almost anyone capable of murder? Is madness always looming?
But it all starts with a well-educated young officer, devoted to his career, who had enjoyed the companionship of women he loved in a predictable and well-organized life. Then, like the author, Giacomo Fatuzzo, the young officer is uprooted and is sent to an isolated post in the wild desert of colonial Africa; and all of these thing disappear. Now there is only random patrolling without clear directions; no real companionship except for a cat, a dog, and a monkey. There is no longer any organization or purpose to the young officer's life. And in this solitude and loneliness, an unending and uniform landscape stretches for miles around him.
His mind wanders and switches back and forth -- from memories to hallucinations to a study of his surroundings to introspection to dreams of Arab women (always prostitutes). And a second, more brutal "self" emerges. As this new "self" becomes stronger, the young officer becomes obsessed with one particular prostitute -- Keria. But is she real? Love becomes hate. Order slips away leaving only chaos, violence, and death. His mind mixes reality with hallucinations with memories and feelings, and only occasionally stops to observe. And interwoven with all of this is the young officer's enchantment with the wildness and power of the desert itself.
Is this all just a story, or is it partly Giacomo Fatuzzo's actual experiences? What is fact and what is fiction? Is this mostly a novel or a memoir? Who are the "Two Souls in the Sun" -- the officer and Keria or the two "selves" of the officer? And in the end, what really happened and what was just imagined?" There is no way to know the answer to these questions. It is up to the reader to decide. What is clear is that Giacomo Fatuzzo, as a young officer, turned his lonely time in a foreign desert in the 1920's into a fascinating exploration of the psychology of human nature, imagination, and the effects of solitude.