Book Quote:

“Never mind about Cagliari, about the dark, narrow streets of Castello that unexpectedly opened to a sea of light, never mind about the flowers she had planted that would flood the terrace of Via Manno with color, never mind about the laundry hanging out in the mistral. Never mind about the beach at the Poetto, a long desert of white dunes beside clear water that, no matter how far you walked, never got deep, while schools of fish swam between your legs. Never mind about summers in the blue-and-white striped bathing hut, the plates of malloreddus with tomato sauce and sausage after swimming. Never mind about her village, with the odor of hearth fires, of pork and lamb and the incense in church when they went to her sisters’ for holidays.”

Book Review:

Review by Roger Brunyate  (MAR 14, 2011)

These memories of her home island of Sardinia run like a litany through the mind of a love-sick woman on a visit to Milan in 1963. She is considering remaining on the mainland for ever, but the contrast between that sea of light and the fog-bound Northern city tells at least the reader why she cannot. It is actually one of relatively few physical descriptions of the island in this charming little novella by Milena Agus, which reads almost like a family memoir. But the book is filled with the spirit of Sardinian life, which seems to have preserved the old ways well beyond the end of the war, a combination of circumspection and joy. The book preserves the language too, quoting it liberally –although this would have been more effective in the Italian edition, where the differences between the two languages would have been more apparent. These sudden switches between the Sardinian expressions and their English versions are the only breaks in an otherwise flowing translation by Ann Goldstein.

The nameless narrator tells the story of her Grandmother, growing up in Sardinia between the wars, and managing to put off all her suitors until her family despair of her as an old maid. This changes in 1943 when she marries a man whose family have all been killed in an air raid. Their sexual life is peculiar, to say the least: husband and wife sleep at opposite edges of the wide bed except when . . . but that would be telling! Certainly it cannot be called a romantic marriage. Romance enters her life in 1950, when she is sent to a mainland spa for her kidney stones. There, she meets a man known only as the Veteran, and the weeks that follow will change her life. “Longing is sad,” the narrator remarks, “but there’s a trace of happiness in it too.”

We also hear about the narrator’s parents: her father, a world-class pianist, and her flutist mother, both surprising products of their environment. Art, indeed, is the subtext of the entire novel. Where did these talents come from? The grandmother works as a maid so that her son might have piano lessons, yet she runs out of the only concert of his that she ever attends. The flutist’s mother appears to have no time for art whatsoever, and yet her life also has its secrets that are revealed only after her death. Does inspiration find root in the glorious jangle of the island itself, where “if you look down you can see the roofs, the geranium-dotted terraces and the drying laundry, and the agave plants on the cliffs and the life of the people, which seems to you truly small and fleeting, yet also joyful?” Or is it some more intimate disorder, just a step away from madness?

For the suitors who visited Grandmother on successive Wednesdays, then made excuses not to return, were convinced that she was mad. She would scribble vast arabesques on the walls of her room. She would sew intricate embroideries that she would then tear apart. And she would write passionate letters, filled with snatches of poetry or suggestions thought improper from an unmarried girl. Had she not found a husband, her parents would have committed her to a pleasant asylum by the sea. Her life is an always-surprising alternation of repression with passionate outbursts of invention. I now realize that Milena Agus’ novel, which seemed rather insubstantial at first reading, is a time-release capsule filled with tiny granules of passion, and itself the record of the Grandmother’s remarkable invention.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 5 readers
PUBLISHER: Europa Editions (December 28, 2010)
REVIEWER: Roger Brunyate
EXTRAS: Mary Whipple’s  review of From the Land of the Moon
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More from Europa Editons:

God on the Rocks by Jane Gardam

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse

Proof of the Honey by Salwa Al Neimi


March 14, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Family Matters, italy, Translated, World Lit

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