I was drawn to this novel by the settings: southern Italy, Rome, New York. The book evokes these places, particularly the austere beauty of Puglia’s olive trees and red earth, while pulling me into an intriguing story of several generations of women, all told—thankfully—from the single viewpoint of the youngest, Alina.
The story also covers some of the territory of the wonderful miniseries La Meglio Gioventu which I saw recently as part of my Italian class: the violent student uprisings of the 70’s, the organising of the Red Brigade, the assassinations of key political figures. Although not the main thrust of either story, each has a character who is convicted of terrorism and examines how that character changes during her prison years.
Remorse. There are people who are paralysed by the fear of making the wrong decision, people who end up doing nothing. But what about the person who makes a choice, who acts and then finds the consequences not just unexpected but horrific? How do you deal with the remorse? And what about the victims? Is forgiveness possible? Is it enough to move on without forgiving?
My book club read Ian McEwan’s Atonement last year and couldn’t stop talking about it. We spent a long time discussing what it meant to atone for something you had done, how you might do that, and if indeed it was even possible. We compared atonement and redemption, teasing out the differences. We looked at the structures various religions have created to contain and control these needs. I had just been catching up on Joss Whedon’s Angel series, which (in among the funny quips and comic book aspects) had some interesting things to say about the means of atonement and the possibility of redemption.
It is hard for me to separate the rational responses to remorse—justifications, good intentions, recompense for the victims where possible, good works in general—from the emotional response—the crushing responsibility, the endless self-flagellation, the fear of doing harm that keeps you from future action.
One of the things I liked best about this story was the way that the people did not give up on each other. No matter how awful the betrayal or how hurtful the neglect, they found a way to let go of old grievances and reconnect with each other. Add to that the rich Italian light and the warmth of sandstone tiles under bare feet, and you have a perfect read for a late winter ice-storm.