I’m always on the lookout for strong female role models in the world of literature as a form of inspiration to myself.
My e-reader is filled with books by authors like Carrie Fisher, Eleanor Catton, Patti Smith, Virginia Woolf, Hilary Mantel, Harper Lee, Zadie Smith and many more English language women writers.
Since I read in Italian, my search has widened to include many like Elena Ferrante, Dacia Maralini, Oriana Fallaci and Natalia Ginzberg.
Of all of these names and books filling my bookshelf and now my ereader, one woman keeps coming back into my imagination.
Grazia Deledda’s novels are filled with the poetry of Sardinia, her writing is draped in a beautiful melancholy, where her island becomes a metaphor for the strength of isolation, creativity and the power of language.
Reading Grazia Deledda is an intoxicating, immersive experience which takes you directly into the rugged and rural Sardinia of the last century, within the physical landscape, local dialect, scents and sounds of this mystical place.
I’m currently reading her 1913 masterpiece Reeds in the Wind, a novel which was originally published as a serial in the Italian magazine L’illustrazione Italiana.
The story set in the decaying rural Sardinian village of Galte is narrated by a local peasant named Efix, who takes us into the crumbling house of the noble Pintor family, who have fallen into hard times. Efix knows the family intimately and is eternally bound to them through duty, honor and guilt.
The Pintor clan is controlled by the head of the family, Don Zame, an arrogant, jealous, and domineering father to four daughters (Ruth, Ester, Lia and Noemi).
When one of Don Zame’s daughter goes missing, he goes insane because of shame associated with the ensuing scandal. Zame is mysteriously killed during a brawl in an inn, after he goes in search for his missing daughter Lia, who inreality has eloped with her lover whom she marries and later has a child with.
As the years go by the wealth of the family begins to diminish, despite the remaining three sisters’ efforts to maintain the regal name of the noble house of Pintor. Lia never returns to her home and passes away but her son Giacinto who maintains in correspondence with his Aunts. After the death of his own father Giacinto manages to visit them, despite not being welcomed by all of them.
The arrival of Giacinto does not help the sisters’ situation in fact it complicates everything, pulling them into further debt, scandal and disarray.
The downfall of the family continues through the years, with the sudden death of Ruth, as Efix is pushed away into exile after it is discovered he accidently murdered Don Zame.
The inevitable fate of the family is revealed as Efix, sick and dying returns to his home to find Giacinto married to a lower classed woman and the youngest aunt Noemi forced to marry her wealthy cousin Predu to avoid total financial ruin.
Grazia Deledda was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1926, an amazing achievement at a time when women were only beginning to have their voices heard. She wrote almost a book a year and each one is drenched in Sardinian culture, dialects, intriguing characters, a vivid landscape and a pessimism born of centuries of oppression. Her books are so deeply melancholy yet undeniably exquisite.
With similar elements of islander decay, fatalism and epic landscape as in Sicilian literature, the fate of the Pintor’s is reminiscent of the fading light of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s character of Prince Fabrizio in his novel The Leopard set in Risorgimento Sicily.
The insular world of Grazia Deledda’s evocative novel Canne al vento (reeds in the wind) is filled with ancient mythology, decaying aristocracy and intricate interconnected voices of the gossiping local community. Reading this book is like you are sitting in the local piazza eavesdropping on the local gossip that recounting the narrative of the novel.
Deledda’s amazingly rich landscape, narrative style and poetry easily draws you into its enchanting spell.