Are you interested in Italian contemporary history? Do you think you know everything about it? Well, there might be something you still don’t know.
It is an issue that has to do with Alto Adige, or South Tyrol, as it is known in English, and what is now the autonomous province of Bolzano. Alto Adige is part of Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy’s northernmost region, which is now famous for the amazing mountains, some of the highest in Europe, and the breathtaking views of the Dolomites.
To describe Trentino-Alto Adige, we can use the words of the tourist information website “draped across the high Alps, where Italy, Austria and Switzerland collide and their cultures blur, Italy’s northernmost region is a major draw for holiday-makers who mostly come for winter skiing, summer hiking and tranquil year-round vistas”.
This is a very idyllic view, which is only a part of reality though. Trentino-Alto Adige, as the word suggests, includes two provinces: the province of Trento, Trentino, which is 98% Italian-speaking and it culturally linked to the rest of Italy, and Alto Adige, the province of Bolzano, where German is the predominant mother-tongue and it feels like a piece of Germany in Italy.
Actually, Alto Adige is not a part of Germany, but it used to be a region of Austria-Hungary, which was annexed to Italy in 1919 as an award after the victory in World War I. So, all of a sudden, people found themselves being part of a whole new country. Moreover, during the Fascist dictatorship, a strong programme of Italianization of the Region was put into place.
German-speaking people were marginalized and this caused a wave of protests: people were against a state that was ostracizing them and made them feel foreigners in their own country. What was called the questione altoatesina (the Alto Adige issue) was characterized by fierce opposition and even serious acts of terrorism that caused the death of a lot of people.
All this ended with a pact between the Südtiroler Volkspartei, the party that was fighting for the rights of Alto Adige German-speaking residents, and the Italian State. The pact guaranteed great autonomy to the province and eased the separatist tensions in the area.
This is the backdrop of the amazing Italian book I want to recommend you here.
Let me first tell you that this is not a historical book. Eva Dorme, the book I am focusing this blog post on, tells the story of a woman and her struggles in life, but the historical setting is so powerful that it is a character in itself. One of the qualities of this book, as a matter of fact, is the ability to describe the situation in Alto Adige and its history in a very captivating and interesting way.
The book is a real page-turner and, while you are hooked and want to know everything about the life of Gerda, the main character in the novel, you also learn a lot about a historical and cultural issue which, I have to admit, has been long-forgotten: almost nobody speaks of the questione altoatesina anymore and only the people who live there are really aware of what it meant and what happened in detail.
The main characters of the book are actually two: Gerda and her daughter Eva. The novel begins with Eva leaving Alto Adige to go to Calabria to see Vito, who has been a key figure in her life. Being Easter’s Eve, no flights or other travel options are available: Eva has to take the train and travel from north to south.
While she is on this ride throughout Italy, Eva thinks about her mother and the life she has led. With frequent flashbacks, Eva tells us the story of Gerda, a German-speaking resident of Alto Adige, who has directly experienced the very difficult situation of the area in the 1960s. Gerda got pregnant at a very young age and this added a new challenge to an already very tough existence. However, Gerda is a very strong woman and is able to survive and even succeed in her life.
Well, I don’t want to tell you too much about the plot, since I do not want to spoil such a captivating part of the novel. Let me just tell you that this book is a great story of family, love, hardship, and strength. It is an intimate and powerful story, where personal and public facts are somehow intertwined and combined with great mastery. If you liked Elena Ferrante’s series, I am sure you’ll find this book very interesting as well.
After Eva Dorme (Eva Sleeps in the English Version), her first book, Francesca Melandri has published two other novels where personal life and public events are connected: Più alto del mare, which is about the 1970s and terrorism, and Sangue Giusto, her most recent book, which focuses on the more contemporary problem of migration, yet with a look at the past. Unfortunately, none of them has been translated into English yet but I hope they will be soon.
What do you think of this book? Do you think you will read it? Let me know!
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