A moving and unsentimental story of inner reconstruction after a devastating loss
Shortlisted for the prestigious Premio Strega in Italy in 2014, this is the story of a broken family coming to terms, in the aftermath of the earthquake in L Aquila in 2009, with the loss of one of them - a twin sister, a daughter, a mother while living in temporary accommodation on the outskirts of the city.
The terse and clean voice of the spiky, single, thirty-something female narrator wards off sentimentality while guiding us through the inner reconstruction undertaken by each character individually and by the family as a whole, letting us witness the extraordinary poetic power of love and the renewal of hope.
Bella Mia by Donatella Di Pietrantonio was published in paperback in the UK by Calisi Press on 23 November 2016, and is translated from the Italian by Franca Scurti Simpson.
The story takes place three years after the devastating earthquake that shattered the Italian town of Aquila in 2009. Over 300 people died, 1500 were injured and 65,000 of the residents were left homeless. The earthquake not only fractured the fabric of the town, ruining houses and businesses, it also shattered families. Leaving a huge sense of loss behind in its wake, with loved ones missing and the survivors dealing with their feelings of grief and guilt and helplessness.
Bella Mia is narrated by Caterina who has been re-housed in the temporary pre-fab buildings on the outskirts of the town. She lives with her mother and her nephew Marco. Marco's mother Olivia was Caterina's twin sister and her death in the quake has changed their family forever.
Expertly translated by Franca Scurti Simpson, Bella Mia is a beautifully imagined story, full of raw emotion and blinding grief, and explores the dynamics of a family who grieve, but are not united in that grief. Each character is crafted perfectly, with special mention to Caterina who has many flaws, yet her vulnerability and humanity shines through on every page.
The author cleverly explores the pain and the loss felt by each character whilst allowing them to slowly rebuild their lives. Olivia's presence is always felt, she will never be forgotten, but the author enables the characters to grow, slowly and gradually, using their pain to guide their way.
Bella Mia is just under 200 pages long, but the emotional impact is huge. Character led and quietly moving, it is a clever and unsentimental novel. Sensitively handled, memorable and very powerful.
My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.