mercoledì 27 giugno 2012
Accabadora, by Michela Murgia
A few weeks ago I read "Accabadora", by Italian writer Michela Murgia, from Sardinia. The reason I became curious about this book is that it had just been translated into Swedish, getting very good praise. I'm always interested in how Italian literature is perceived abroad, and in what is translated and what is not. (In general, Sweden has a very scant selection of translated literature, for example I was recently extremely surprised to find out that only two of Yukio Mishima's works are available in Swedish, while you can find more or less his complete works both in Italian and English).
Plus, I was interested in the main character: the Accabadora. Acabar in Spanish means to finish, to end, and the Sardinian word accabadora probably comes from that, and it refers to a woman (always a woman) who puts an end to the suffering of very elderly or sick people, when the family or even the sick person demands her intervention. It's a form of euthanasia, and I thought it was fascinating to write a novel about this. Woman as giver of both life and death, the first and the last mother, a figure who is both strongly human and eerily bewitched. I bought the book in Italian and was very eager to plunge into its pages.
Sardinia is politically part of Italy but has a rich and fascinating culture of its own which you can perceive just by spending a few weeks there. It's an enchanting place. It even has its own language and folklore, and I thought this novel would bring me deep into all these things. BUT.... I was disappointed. The novel is a quick read and it has some beautiful glimpses here and there, but when it struggles to be deep and introspective, it sounds predictable and the characters's actions and thoughts often feel artificial, reminding you at every sentence that you are "just" reading a book. Most characters (the ignorant peasants, the young, sensitive Maria, the wise Accabadora, the old priest) often express their thoughts in the same way, through puns and witful jokes, and this homogeneity feels totally wrong, of course.
So, big theme, equally big disappointment. And I think it's significant that when I read readers' reviews on the Italian site ibs, the only reader from Sardinia who wrote a comment stated that she couldn't recognize her world, according to her Sardinia is something else. I can't judge this, because my knowledge of this complex island is too little, but I can say that I expected much, much more from this writer and from this novel in particular.
We are soon going to Italy for our summer holidays and I will borrow my mum's collection of Grazia Deledda's works. I think I can find much more of Sardinia in there....