From the Land of the Moon

 I love a book that includes landscape as an important character almost as much as I love a story with an unreliable narrator. I also adore Italy, so for me From The Land Of The Moon, written by Milena Agus and translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein, is the trifecta of great literature.

A small book, From The Land Of The Moon is a big story of love and belonging. Our heroine remains unnamed throughout, and this is important because without a name she is no one and she is everyone. Significantly however, she is the grandmother of a girl who traces her family history as she is about to be married and create a family of her own.

Grandmother was eccentric and beautiful, and who at thirty remained shamefully unmarried. This was scandal enough to Great-Grandmother, but to make matters worse, the daughter was also a poet. She prone to kidney stones and what we would now call depression, and probably she was a little mad also. A sensitive artist, Grandmother had survived World War II in her native Sardinia, but had been unlucky in love. To her family’s great relief, a widower from Cagliari came to the family home one day, and they married their troublesome daughter off to the stranger as quickly as possible, effectively removing the taint of crazy from the family name.

Though hers was a loveless marriage, Grandmother’s husband was kind to her. He had a good job and he built her a beautiful home. Still, she felt that she was missing “that essential thing.” This, she reasoned was why she kept getting pregnant and then miscarrying: her life lacked that essential thing.

This all changed, when one year her husband sent her to the mineral springs to ‘take the cure.’ At the spa, she befriended a handsome war Veteran who had also come to take the cure at the mineral springs. Though they spent a very short time together at the spa, Grandmother fell deeply in love, and from then on the veteran played a central role in the grandmother’s life. In him, she felt that she had found what she had been missing.

Upon returning to home, Grandmother discovered that she was once again pregnant, but this time it held, and she delivered a son. She gave the boy everything and when he grew up to be a famous musician and married another musician, he left his daughter with to be raised by his mother. Lucky girl.

“My grandmother was over sixty when I was born. I remember that as a child I thought she was beautiful, and I’d watch, enthralled, when she combed her hair and made her old-fashioned crocchia, parting the hair, which never turned white or thin, then braiding it and coiling the braids into two chignons.”

To the girl, Grandmother was, and had always been beautiful and strong. Grandmother may have been delusional, her history may have been imagined, but her love was real and sustaining, and shines through as the essential thing in this sweet story.

Review by Cynthia Gregory/ceegregory@aol.com

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