12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
It's a simple story, told by the main character. Leda is 47, divorced, an academic, mother of daughters who are now in their 20s and live in Canada with their father. She rents an apartment for a month in an Italian beach resort. She has no lover, she's completely alone. And so she falls into the habit of going to the same stretch of beach every day.
You know how it is when you're a stranger in a strange town? You make up stories about the people you see. Leda does this with a woman and her child who also spend their days at the beach. They're lined up like planets --- Leda, the "bad" mother, then the mother who "seemed to have no desire for anything but her child," and then the little girl, so secure in her mother's love that she gives all her attention to an old doll.
One day, the little girl gets lost. Leda --- who, as we know, long ago, lost her connection to her own kids --- finds her. And now the plot starts to circle itself, and tighten, forcing Leda to remember more of her own story. (To buy the book from Amazon, click here.)
On page two, Leda says that "the hardest things to talk about are the ones we ourselves can't understand." For her, that's abandoning her daughters, all those years ago. Her first explanation, to the mother on the beach: "Sometimes you have to escape in order not to die."
Believe that at your peril. There's much more. But what's compelling is how little it takes to lose your bearings --- a small burst of attention, modest encouragement, a bout of illicit sex. The next thing you know, you're a stranger to yourself, you're a foreigner in your own body. The scene when Leda leaves her kids --- it's not wrenching like "Kramer vs. Kramer," it's one matter-of-fact paragraph. In its way, that's more wrenching.
Which is not to say that this is a story by a woman who can do nothing but watch and think. Something happens midway through. It's simple, trivial, blatantly symbolic --- it's so obvious you grimace. Why is that? Because you haven't abandoned a child. And you never would.
So it is the astonishing triumph of this simple, short (125 page) novel that, slowly, you come to identify with a woman who has done the unthinkable. And, in the aftermath, you feel a bit unhinged.
"I had left my husband and my daughters at a moment when I was sure I had the right, was in the right," Leda says near the end of the novel. And as if you've been in the sun at the beach all day and have just returned to the shade and a breeze and a cool drink, you blink --- because you're just not sure if that would be your final answer. And, if it would be, what that says about you.
What a beautiful, disturbing, thought-provoking book.