Zeno Cosini (ZEH-noh koh-SEE-nee), an Italian businessman in Trieste (then part of Austria). The book is supposed to be a narrative that Zeno prepared for Dr. S., his psychoanalyst. Zeno first discusses his attempts to stop smoking, in which he displays his usual pattern of taking a “health-giving bath of good resolutions” that are never carried out. The same irresolution appears in the two most important aspects of Zeno’s life: sex and business. He wins his plain but affectionate wife after proposing in vain to two of her sisters (a third has pronounced him quite mad). Although he comes to love his wife, all of his baths of good intentions cannot keep him from taking a mistress, Carla, a music student. He is generally content to leave his family business in the hands of the manager, Olivi. Even when he joins his brother-in-law, Guido Speier, in a separate venture, he mostly watches passively, until Guido dies, leaving his affairs in a disastrous state; then Zeno steps in and by some lucky speculations recovers part of the losses. When war between Italy and Austria separates him from his family and Olivi, he again asserts himself and proves adept at profiting from wartime shortages. The references to psychoanalysis in the novel invite a Freudian interpretation of Zeno, which is supported by Zeno’s extreme hypochondria and his troubled memories of his father. Zeno...
(The entire section is 554 words.)