Mazes of Memory in “The Minotaur at Calle Lanza” by Zito Madu 

In fall 2020, Zito Madu moved to Venice for work. He nervously left his parents back at their home in Detroit, and entered a city usually packed with tourists and now comparably deserted, shops opening and closing at unexpected times, the curving streets often empty except for him. Within the labyrinth of an eerie Venice, Madu reflects on himself and his own memories in The Minotaur at Calle Lanza.

In the midst of pandemic closures, Venice resists Madu’s attempts to make himself comfortable. On his very first night he discovers a pizza shop where he has a nice, quietly happy moment with its owner, and he looks forward to finding it again the next day. But the next day, it’s closed—and for the next several months of his time there, “I never again saw the pizza shop open.” It’s one of many times in Venice that Madu finds a place where he can sit in comfort, only to be unable to access it or find it again.

In the madness of the pandemic, he turns corners and finds that what was there yesterday is no longer there today. The maze is always shifting, changing, and he’s at its mercy. Venice becomes a place of consistent uncertainty—and in that ambiguousness, that state of being always lost, Madu is forced into a new state of exploration and discomfort.

There are mazes everywhere in Madu’s memoir, and he uncovers them as he gets lost in Venice’s labyrinthine streets. There’s the maze his parents went through coming to America from Nigeria, and surviving once here. There’s the maze of his own memory, as he goes back through his childhood and sees anew moments that he interpreted in his own way as an angry, rebellious teenager.

The biggest maze is within Madu himself. He spends much of this memoir analyzing his relationship with his father, and trying to get past its barbs and tricks to figure out what exactly lies at the center. Growing up, he was the misbehaving son who couldn’t be contained. All he wanted was freedom, from expectations and limitations. He couldn’t see then why his father needed, so much, for Madu and his siblings to succeed in a way that redeemed all the sacrifices he had made for them to be here in the United States. All he could see was that his father seemed to hate him most of all, singling him out for beatings and fury.

Why him in particular? His parents believe that he is the reincarnation of his father’s father, making his relationship with his father a strange, looping thing. Madu cites a lecture by Jorge Luis Borges in which he says that “it only takes two facing mirrors to construct a labyrinth.” Madu instantly recognizes himself in that: “A grandfather, a son who loved and took on so many of his qualities through devotion and duty, and a grandson who was the reincarnation of that grandfather, with a similar face and heart—a labyrinth of three mirrors. At any point and at every point, each one of us is in the middle with the other two facing him.”

He feels it’s impossible to live under those conditions, this maze of mirrors, feels that his father hates him, feels that he hates his father. The irony is that he wins, so to speak. He gets to a place where his father cannot chastise him, where his pride is big enough that no matter what his parents do, he can choose his own path. And then the path he chooses is to stay. He remains home, first with his siblings, helping to take care of them, and then with his parents, helping them with changing technology and making sure they’re safe.

After all this time of grating, fighting to be free, Madu finds that there is something safe in a labyrinth. He grows prideful and protective of his own neighborhood in Venice, which he calls “my little labyrinth.” Just like his childhood home, perhaps, the neighborhood is a home, “even with its faults and my position there as an other.” It is his home, and he decides it’s the best one.

For a vivid, wild chapter in this memoir, Madu becomes a minotaur. He becomes the monster at the center of the maze, stalking Venice, trapped for his own good but desperate for freedom, and willing to chase it even at the risk of violent retribution. As he looks back through the cracks of memory and understands why his father made so many of his decisions, why his father looked at him with such disdain, he wonders if he is the horned monster at the center of the maze that contains him and his father. Does he deserve the pain that comes to him? Is he wrong to lash out at those who hurt him, reject him, beat him, because he is a monster and in some way deserves it?

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He could lay all the guilt at his own doorstep for what he did as the monster. He could let himself drown in the memory of how he acted to his father. But he was also mistreated as the minotaur, he was beaten, he was hurt when he was just trying to be. He could drown in his anger at that memory, of being innocent and being attacked, of being a child and being unjustly singled out.

Luckily, there’s an alternative to drowning in either blame or shame. Madu is able to become himself again before it’s time to leave Venice. Discussing the change, a friend tells him that transformation is not always considered a curse. “There are some people who wish they could transform into a beast or a tree to express the deep pain they hold in all the time,” says his friend.

And perhaps that’s what Madu has accomplished, both in this twisting memoir and in his strange time in Venice: an experience of catharsis, of temporarily escaping one labyrinth for another, one in which he could think, and feel, and see himself more truly, before heading home once more. Being in a new maze allows him to study the other with a clearer mind, examine himself and his anger and regret while in a safely unfamiliar place. Madu’s surreal, short memoir reminds us of what it means to travel—by throwing himself into the unfamiliar, he is able to discover new, hidden pieces of his own self.

The Minotaur at Calle Lanza
By Zito Madu
Belt Publishing
Published April 2, 2024

Leah Rachel von Essen

Leah Rachel von Essen is a freelance editor and book reviewer who lives on the South Side of Chicago with her cat, Ms Nellie Bly. A senior contributor at Book Riot, and a reviewer for Booklist and Chicago Review of Books, Leah focuses her writings on books in translation, fantasy, genre-bending fiction, chronic illness, and fatphobia, among other topics. Her blog, While Reading and Walking, was founded in 2015, and boasts more than 15,000 dedicated followers across platforms. Learn more about Leah at or visit her blog at

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