The Other Profile, by Irene Graziosi. Translated by Lucy Rand.

Irene Graziosi
Irene Graziosi
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The Other Profile, by Irene Graziosi. Translated by Lucy Rand.

Irene Graziosi
Irene Graziosi

By Lovia Gyarkye

Kevin Systrom, a founder of Instagram, recently confessed that the platform he helped create had lost its soul. Gone are the days when friends and family shared photos with earnest and eager passion. Now, influencers reign supreme. No one is real. It’s “terrifying,” Systrom said on the journalist Kara Swisher’s podcast. “It’s this race to the bottom of who can be the most perfect.”

Maia, the sharp-tongued protagonist of Irene Graziosi’s debut novel, “The Other Profile,” already knows this. She thinks of Instagram profiles like vision boards — evidence of aspiration, not reflections of reality. Her own page counters the trend with an ascetic banality. She prefers not to be perceived.

Maia’s a depressed graduate school dropout living in Milan with her boyfriend, Filippo. He was a professor at the university where she was enrolled, and their courtship was a sweaty encounter of grief (Maia’s, after the death of her sister) and desperation (his). Now, their relationship is sustained by mutual ambivalence. Filippo wishes Maia would do more than eat gummy bears and watch Olivia Benson solve crimes on TV. Maia hates that Filippo dragged her away from Paris and into a city where he is respected and she is unknown.

Maia eventually gets a job — first as a bartender and then as an assistant to an influencer named Gloria, a teenager with millions of Instagram followers. “I’ll need someone who can help me in the public transition from being a high schooler to being ... something else,” Gloria tells her. As part of the job, Maia not only recommends books, writes speeches and composes social media captions, she is also expected to be Gloria’s soul.

Graziosi, the founder of a cultural YouTube channel and magazine, is particularly attuned to the language of the chronically online. Her novel, which is translated from the Italian by Lucy Rand, is at its most nimble when Maia observes influencer culture. The sponsored events, brand meetings and vague clichés about self-love are fodder for her acerbic judgments and acid humor. Gloria’s world is filled with frauds and Maia loves to call them out.

The pair’s relationship enters dangerous territory when Maia finds herself first obsessed with, and then consumed by, Gloria. A mandate issued by Gloria’s manager about her client still haunts me: “You have to give her a personality,” she tells Maia. “That’s how she works; she’s an empty vessel.” As Gloria extracts more and more from Maia, I kept waiting for the novel to make good on the suggestion of psychological thrill. But the stakes of Maia and Gloria’s increased mutual dependence hardly simmer. Graziosi divides attention between this parasitic bond, Maia’s failing relationship with Filippo and how Maia mourns her sister Eva.

Graziosi tries to knit these threads together to add layers of suspense and mystery, but her language struggles to keep up with the demands of the story. There’s an overreliance on direct exposition to carry us through scenes, which undercuts the charm and acuity of Maia’s wry voice in the novel’s early pages. It also softens any tension. Impatience creeps in as nervy prose is replaced with colorless revelations like: “I’m sometimes caught out by how much I’ve changed, even since the previous week. I can’t say precisely what these changes are.”

“The Other Profile” lumbers around, depriving us of specificity as it submits to cliché. By the end, I wondered what Maia, with her lacerating opinions, would think of this fate. How she might feel to know that the intensity of her relationship with Gloria had been tempered by the same hazy sentiments she once mocked. Maybe she’d shrug or, considering the way Systrom now feels about Instagram, maybe she’d find it kind of terrifying.

The New York Times



Saudi Arabia is Guest of Honor at Beijing International Book Fair 2024

The Kingdom's participation is overseen by the Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission
The Kingdom's participation is overseen by the Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission
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Saudi Arabia is Guest of Honor at Beijing International Book Fair 2024

The Kingdom's participation is overseen by the Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission
The Kingdom's participation is overseen by the Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission

Saudi Arabia is getting ready to inaugurate its pavilion at Beijing International Book Fair 2024 as the guest of honor for this year's edition, which will be held from June 19 to 23 in the Chinese capital.
The Kingdom's participation is overseen by the Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission and a number of cultural and national entities.

The Kingdom's pavilion includes participation from a variety of sectors, including the Heritage Commission, Culinary Arts Commission, Film Commission, Ministry of Investment, King Abdulaziz Foundation (Darah), King Salman Global Academy for Arabic Language, King Abdulaziz Public Library, King Fahd National Library, and Saudi Publishing Association.
This diversity aims to offer a comprehensive understanding of Saudi culture, including Saudi intellectual production and the promotion of investment opportunities in the Kingdom, particularly in the cultural sector. In addition, several seminars and dialogue sessions highlighting Saudi culture and its various connections to Chinese culture will be held.
The Saudi dinner, a special display of books, manuscripts, and artifacts, a live performance of traditional performing arts, a display of costumes and paintings, screenings of Saudi films, a corner for the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Award for Cultural Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China, and special corners for the Literature, Publishing, and Translation Commission's partners will be on the sidelines of the participation.