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Shelf Awareness: "An unassuming little gem of a novel that packs a heartfelt emotional wallop."

Date: Dec 28 2010

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There she sits, beautiful Grandmother as she once was, a victim of mental illness perhaps, a kind of "love folly." As a genuinely attractive woman, she is always convinced handsome men are just about to propose to her, a truly lovely woman who perpetually hopes that the man of her dreams is just about to arrive. She covers the walls of her house with drawings, entrusts her most intimate thoughts to a hidden black book and sits on the bench in front of her home in the little village of Cagliari on the island of Sardinia, smiling fixedly, "as if she understood nothing, as if she had arrived from the land of the moon."


In 1950, at the age of 40, Grandmother leaves the husband she doesn't love in the village of Cagliari. At the thermal baths on the mainland she meets the Veteran, the great love of her life, who may be the narrator's real grandfather.

The ineffectual husband whom Grandmother doesn't love has arrived in town as a stranger with nothing but a suitcase and proposes to her one month later. Grandfather never stops settling for her degrading behavior--and then we discover why he continues to love this very damaged woman. In his earlier life, before coming to Cagliari, as he was leaving work on his birthday, with his wife, children and relatives all gathered at his home ahead of him, waiting to celebrate, American bombers attacked his village. His family home was reduced to rubble, his entire family killed. He is determined now to keep his new family.


We meet grandmother Lia as an obstructive, bitter, unpleasant old woman--and then we learn that, as a teenager, she ran away from home, pregnant by a shepherd who emigrates to America, an already married man who may have truly loved her.


This simple but profound tale of how little we know each other is told in a very condensed, chronicle style, a tale spanning three generations boiled down to its essence in less than a hundred pages. Sketching out only a few scenes into dramatic life, author Milena Agus artlessly strings together half a dozen plot threads of people caught in a tragic tangle of unfulfilled and unrequited loves, in which the characters who are most judgmental are often the people with the same secrets.


 "...what do we really know about others...?" Agus asks. "What can we know, truly, even about those closest to us?"


Begin this novel a doubter, if you will, that anything so short can span so very much and shake you to your emotional center. You may find yourself remaining in your armchair stunned when the last page is turned, then going back to the beginning to read again, with wiser eyes, this unassuming little gem.


--Nick DiMartino


Shelf Talker: An unassuming little gem of a novel that packs a heartfelt emotional wallop.

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