Leda is a 47 year-old divorced woman, and mother to daughters, Bianca and Marta, now 22 and 24. The girls have recently moved from Italy to Toronto, Canada to live with their father. Leda is well educated and teaches at the university in Florence, Italy. Leda was not upset when her daughters moved away, in fact it was quite the opposite:
"When my daughters moved to Toronto, where their father had lived and worked for years, I was embarrassed and amazed to discover that I wasn't upset; rather, I felt light, as if only then had I definitively brought them into the world. For the first time in almost twenty-five years I was not aware of the anxiety of having to take care of them. The house was neat, as if no one lived there, I no longer had the constant bother of shopping and doing the laundry, the woman who for years had helped with the household chores found a better paying job, and I felt no need to replace her."
It's summer and since she is feeling happy about her new freedom, Leda decides to rent a beach house for six weeks, on the Ionian coast, near Naples. She packs her books and lesson plans for the coming school year and is planning to relax by lounging on the beach by day.
Early on she becomes fascinated by the interactions of an attractive young mother named Nina, and her young daughter, Elena. She also intently watches little Elena's interactions with her doll, which the girl calls by several different names. Several other family members visit the family on the beach as well. One day Leda notices the child by the waters edge, so she returns her to her mother who was lying on the beach blanket and hadn't noticed the child had wandered to the water. Another day when the family leaves the beach for the day, Leda notices that Elena's beloved doll was left buried in the sand. This incident upsets Leda, and suddenly this event, along with the interactions of mother and child, opens a floodgate of memories for Leda of her own days as a young mother. Some of the incidents which she recalls of things she did, and ways she reacted to her own daughters --were cringe-worthy.
This brief novella, just 124 pages, is sure to evoke emotions among readers, especially mothers. Narrated in the first person, this deep journey into a mother's psyche, gives the reader plenty to think about. Marriage, motherhood, personal freedom, sacrifice and career fulfillment are some of the conflicting issues that surface in this work.
Initially, I thought I might have a problem with the flow of the story due to the translation, but that was not the case. Once I got into the rhythm and into what was going on in Leda's head, I was hooked. I liked this one a lot, and would definitely recommend it.