Wednesday, December 22, 2010
REVIEW: From the Land of the Moon, by Milena Agus
Set during and just after World War II but in a backwater of Italy far from the front lines, From the Land of the Moon is the haunting story of an unnamed woman, the narrator's grandmother, who, unable to have children, is sent by her husband to a spa where she falls in love for the first time. The man, a fellow patient, is known only as the Veteran; his past, bound up with the war and its attendant tragedies, is full of secrets and passions. The grandmother has a secret of her own: she writes. Her family thinks she is worthless, an eccentric spinster who marries late the only man who will have her, she's from "the land of the moon" as far as they're concerned.
The grandmother is a beautiful, passionate and brilliant woman whose story of repressed vivacity could easily have turned maudlin, but under Agus's light touch turns into something else. The novel, barely more than a novella, tracks her entire life through the eyes of her granddaughter; time moves back and forth, and the narrator weaves in her own memories and those of her father, mother and other relatives in a delicate net of memory, secrets and love. Despite never being given a name, the grandmother and indeed all the characters, are far from generic or even archetypal; Agus presents their emotions and personalities so convincingly, and sets them in such a vividly rendered time and place, that I felt like I was reading about real people. The grandmother's trip to Milan with her husband, years after her time at the spa, was heartbreaking and real, and the final twist brought tears to my eyes and made me question almost everything I'd read.
From the Land of the Moon is a beautiful family story and love story that readers of European literary fiction will absolutely love. It's short and Agus has a light touch but it's not a light novel. The writing is careful and the book requires a careful reader; it took me much longer to read this than I would have guessed for such a short novel. It's a timeless story rich with detail of time and place, about nameless characters who are nonetheless as real and memorable as any you'll meet on paper.
Because I loved this novel so much I'd like to share it with one of my readers. Comment with your email address for a chance to win my copy; the giveaway is open worldwide and ends at midnight, December 25. Call it my little Christmas present to one of you!
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Europa Editions.