From the Land of the Moon
by Milena Agus ★★★★★
“She had married late, in June of 1943, after the American bombing of Cagliari, and in those days to be thirty and not yet settled was already to be something of an old maid. Not that she was ugly, or lacked suitors—on the contrary. But at a certain point the wooers called less frequently and then stopped, each time before they had officially asked my great-grandfather for her hand.
Dear signorina, circumstances beyond my control prevent me from calling on you this Wednesday, and also next, which would be very enjoyable for me but, unfortunately, impossible. So grandmother waited for the third Wednesday, but a little girl, a pipiedda, always arrived with the letter that put off the visit again, and then there was nothing.”
This tiny little book of just 108 pages packs the rich history of the narrator’s grandmother, who, growing up in a small Sardinian village and considered to be crazy, was the shame of her parents and sisters. When a man, very recently widowed by the aforementioned bombing offers to marry the inconvenient girl, her father accepts the proposal despite her begging that he refuse; she does not love the man and neither does he love her, but marry they do, to everyone’s relief. Nearly ten years later, the woman has had one miscarriage after another—even though she has made sure to meet her husband’s every sexual demand, no matter how peculiar, to keep him away from the brothels—so she is sent off to be cured of kidney stones at a thermal bath station. There, she meets another patient, a war veteran, and for the very first time, experiences with him the love, passion and consideration she has always yearned for.
This is a story about ordinary people trying their best to get on with life after great tragedy and make do with what they have, while going to great lengths to fulfill their yearning and passion—in ways that some would call madness and others would consider to be artistic genius. It’s difficult for me to put into words why it is I fell in love with this little book. The translation (from the original Italian) of this Europa Editions novel is, as to be expected, excellent and lets the sublime writing shine through. And of course, part of me couldn’t help but identify with our misguided heroine, who is willing to go to great lengths to make the love she dreams of a reality. Gorgeous. A must read.