By: Francesca Melandri, Katherine Gregor (Translator)
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Out of the struggles and conflicts in the border regions of Northern Italy and Austria and the rich history that has resulted from this meeting of cultures, comes a family story that embodies the history of nations. Eva, a forty-year-old public relations professional living in Northern Italy, recieves an unexpected message from Southern Italy. Vito, a man she briefly knew as a child as a friend of her mother’s, is very ill and would like to see her one last time. He is a retired police officer who was stationed in the north during the late-sixties, a period rife with tension, protest, and violence. These troubles, however, did not stop a young hapless policeman from falling in love with the “wrong” woman, a girl named Gerda from Austrian Tyrol, an inventive and accomplished cook, a single mother with a rich family history of her own, a northerner, the sister of a terrorist, and Gerda’s mother.
Vito’s affair with Gerda was a passionate one, but what was the nature of their love? And if he loved her so passionately why did he return to Calabria? What scars did those years leave on Vito, and on Gerda? It’s time for Eva to find out.
I love how diverse Europa Editions is in bringing translated fiction to the English-speaking audience. I’m always interested to read the latest from the European literary scene, like in Italy. So this book has been on my wishlist for some time; picked it up a few years ago, but then it took me another few years before I finally read it 😛
So I guess what really drew me into this novel was its setting: I had studied in Trento ten years ago for a semester during my graduate programme and much of the novel is steeped in its history, from its time as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire to its inclusion (and the difficulty around it) into Italy. The novel gave quite a sweeping introduction to its history, the scope of its history and culture, its different identity compared to other parts of the country and what the Italian governemnt was indeed trying to accomplish, and the region’s struggle to integrate. I had known bits and pieces of the region’s history but the book really opened its history to me. The nation-building elements were also interesting to read in terms of how they went about it: what was included and excluded in this new nation, how they flooded the region with Italians from other parts of the country, how existing culture, practices, and language were suddenly demeaned and looked down upon. It was also interesting to read what the state of the Italian countryside was like in the early 20th century; it just sounds so different from what I had seen when I was there.
I guess all these grander themes eclipsed the story in my mind. The story itself was interesting enough, of a daughter understanding her mother’s life and the hardships that her mother had been through. Gerda’s story was one of hardship, of the stigma of being a single mother in such a time, of the hardship of work and what it takes to be established. But it’s also a story of what it’s like to grow up without the absence of a father figure; it affected Eva, however subtly.
Overall Eva Sleeps is a rich, introspecive, insightful, and interesting read. I highly recommend checking this novel out if you’re into translated literature and historical fiction that’s thoughtful and rich in relationships, history, and characters.