From the Land of the Moon [NOOK Book]

Overview

An young unnamed woman reflects the life of her grandmother, a bewitching and eccentric figure whose abiding search for love spans much of the twentieth century. In 1943, as American bombs fall on the city of Cagliari, the young womanÕs grandmother is thirty and already considered an old maid, unmarried and still living at home with her parents. But when the bombing ceases, and despite her protests, her father forces her to marry the first man to propose, an older widower she doesnÕt love. After suffering several...
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From the Land of the Moon

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Overview

An young unnamed woman reflects the life of her grandmother, a bewitching and eccentric figure whose abiding search for love spans much of the twentieth century. In 1943, as American bombs fall on the city of Cagliari, the young womanÕs grandmother is thirty and already considered an old maid, unmarried and still living at home with her parents. But when the bombing ceases, and despite her protests, her father forces her to marry the first man to propose, an older widower she doesnÕt love. After suffering several miscarriages, she is sent for treatment at a spa on the mainland, where she falls in love with an injured Italian army veteran and nine months later gives birth to a son. Attributing the pregnancy to her spa treatment, she returns to her husband and never reveals the affair. Decades later, she returns to the mainland and travels to her former loverÕs hometown of Milan. Dressed in her finest coat and shoes, she wanders the streets in search of the elusive veteran.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In her debut novel, Agus follows the fortunes of a Sardinian woman whose adventures begin as WWII comes to an end; the unnamed narrator is her granddaughter who is about to be married. The woman had suitors, but with no firm proposals by 30, she was forced into a marriage to a widower whose experiences in the brothel dictate their life in the bedroom. Several miscarriages and kidney stones later, she is sent to thermal baths on the mainland for a cure, where she takes as her lover a war veteran whose kindness is in stark contrast to her husband's indifference. The veteran has a wife and daughter in Milan and she returns home to give birth to a son. Years later, she searches for her lost love, wandering the streets of Milan. The narrator constantly amends the tale, demonstrating the uncertainty of stories passed down. Agus's descriptions of the everyday are as beautiful and haunting as her portrayal of life's most dramatic episodes. Add an unexpected ending and the result is a graceful, powerful book. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews

In this debut novel, which made a splash when released in the author's native Italy, a young Italian woman recounts the bittersweet life of her eccentric Sardinian grandmother.

Taken to cutting herself and writing passionate love poems to the local boys, the emotional beauty at the center of this brief but powerful debut struggles mightily to find happiness in the traditional island village she calls home. With her story pieced together years later by her granddaughter, it becomes clear that her family looked upon her as a kind of alien, even if she never quite grasped why. After World War I, she reluctantly agrees to marry the displaced widower boarding with her clan. He is a decent man, but emotionally distant, and she does not love him. However, the two find a kind of common ground in the bedroom, and their imaginative couplings make the most of the grandmother's sexual vitality. But it is not enough, and when she journeys to the mainland to visit a health spa in Cagliari, she meets the Veteran. An elegant gentleman from Milan with one leg, he is also married and seeking treatment for kidney stones. They grow close and begin a passionate affair that becomes the focal point of the grandmother's life. Back at home, she then gives birth to her only child, a son who grows up to be a gifted classical musician. She continues to pine for the Veteran with equal parts guilt and elation, even as daily life gives her greater comfort. After her death, the granddaughter discovers a book and a letter that reveals additional secrets—and raises additional questions. So was the grandmother delusional, damaged or just misunderstood? The truth lies probably somewhere in the middle, and Agus' beautifully written tale allows room for a lovely ambiguity. The vivid descriptions of the Sardinian landscape are a fitting complement to the heroine's conflicted heart.

A lush, haunting portrait of an artist born before her time.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781609450588
  • Publisher: Europa
  • Publication date: 12/28/2010
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 114
  • Sales rank: 864,660
  • File size: 483 KB

Meet the Author

Milena Agus was a finalist for the Strega and Campiello prizes, and was awarded the prestigious Zerilli-Marimò prize for Mal di petra (From the Land of the Moon). It is her first novel. Agus lives in Cagliari, Sardinia.
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Read an Excerpt

Grandmother met the Veteran in the fall of 1950. She had come from Cagliari to the mainland for the first time. She must have been around forty, and had no children, because su mali de is perdas—her kidney stones—always caused her to miscarry in the first months. So, with her sack-like overcoat and high, laced shoes and the suitcase her husband had brought as an evacuee to her village, she was sent to the thermal baths to be cured.

She had married late, in June of 1943, after the American bombing of Cagliari, and in those days to be thirty and not yet settled was already to be something of an old maid. Not that she was ugly, or lacked suitors— on the contrary. But at a certain point the wooers called less frequently and then stopped, each time before they had officially asked my great-grandfather for her hand. Dear signorina, circumstances beyond my control prevent me from calling on you this Wednesday, and also next, which would be very enjoyable for me but, unfortunately, impossible. So grandmother waited for the third Wednesday, but a little girl, a pipiedda, always arrived with the letter that put off the visit again, and then there was nothing.

My great-grandfather and her sisters loved her just the same, though she was almost an old maid, but not my great-grandmother; she always treated her as if she were not her own flesh and blood and said that she knew why. On Sunday, when the girls went to Mass or to parade along the main street with their young men, grandmother gathered her hair into a bun—it was still thick and black when I was a child and she already old, imagine what it was like then—and went to church to ask God why, why he was so unjust as to deny her the knowledge of love, which is the most beautiful thing, the only thing that makes life worth living, a life in which you get up at four in the morning to do the household chores and then you go to the fields and then to the school for boring embroidery and then to get drinking water from the fountain with the pitcher on your head, and then you're up one whole night out of ten to make the bread and then you draw the water from the well and then you have to feed the chickens. So if God didn't want her to know love he might as well kill her, any way he wanted. In confession the priest told her that such thoughts were a serious sin and that there are many other things in the world, but grandmother didn't care at all about other things.

One day my great-grandmother waited for her in the courtyard with the whip, made of ox sinew, and began to hit her until even her head was bleeding and she had a high fever. She had discovered from rumors in the town that the suitors stopped coming because grandmother wrote them passionate love poems that alluded to obscene things and that her daughter was disgracing not only herself but her whole family. And she went on hitting her, hitting her and yelling "Dimonia! dimonia!" and cursing the day they had sent her to elementary school, and she had learned to write.

In May of 1943 my grandfather arrived in the town; he was over forty and was an employee of the salt works in Cagliari. He had had a beautiful house on Via Giuseppe Manno, just beside the church of San Giorgio and Santa Caterina, a house with a view over the rooftops to the harbor and the sea. After the bombing of May 13th, nothing was left of this house and the church and many other things, except a hole and a pile of rubble. Grandmother's family welcomed this respectable gentleman, who had not been called up to fight because of his age, who was a very recent widower, an evacuee with only a borrowed suitcase and a few things pulled from the ruins. They took him in for nothing. By June he had asked for grandmother's hand, and married her. She wept almost every day in the month before the marriage. She knelt at my great-grandfather's feet and begged him to say no, to pretend that she was promised to someone away in the war. Otherwise, if they didn't want her in the house anymore, she would go to Cagliari, she would look for a job. "De Casteddu bèninti innòi, filla mia, e tui bòli si andai ingúni! Non c'esti prus núdda in sa cittàdi"—"They're coming here from Cagliari, child, and you want to go there! There's nothing left in the city."

"Macca esti," my great-grandmother shouted. "Macca schetta! In sa cittadi a fai sa baldracca bòliri andai, chi scetti kussu pori fai, chi non sciri fai nudda cummenti si spettada, chi teniri sa conca prena de bentu, de kandu fiada pitíca!"— "She's crazy. Completely crazy! She wants to go to the city to be a whore, that's all she can do, because she doesn't do anything the way it should be done, she's had a head full of air ever since she was a child!"

It would have been simple to invent a fiancé at the front—the Alps, Libya, Albania, the Aegean—or at sea with the Royal Navy. It would have been nothing, but my great-grandparents wouldn't hear of it. So she told him that she didn't love him and could never be a true wife. Grandfather told her not to worry. He didn't love her, either. Assuming that they both knew what they were talking about. As for being a true wife, he understood very well. He would continue to go to the brothel at the port, as he had done since he was a boy, and had never got a disease. But they did not return to Cagliari until 1945. So my grandparents slept like brother and sister in the guest room: with the big, high iron bedstead inlaid with motherof- pearl, the painting of the Madonna and Child, the clock under the bell jar, the washstand with pitcher and basin, the mirror with a painted flower, and the porcelain chamber pot under the bed. Those things grandmother brought to Via Giuseppe Manno, when the house in the village was sold; she wanted the room to be exactly the same as the one she had slept in for the first year of her marriage. But in the house in the village the bedrooms got light and air only from the lolla, the loggia; here in Via Manno, instead, there is light from the south and from the sea, which invades fiercely until sunset, and makes every-

thing sparkle. And I've always loved this room; when I was a child grandmother let me come in only if I had been good and never more than once a day.

During her first year of marriage grandmother had malaria. The fever rose as high as a hundred and five, and grandfather nursed her, sitting for hours to make sure that the cloth on her forehead stayed cool; her forehead was so hot that the cloth had to be soaked in icy water, and he came and went and you could hear the pulley of the well squeaking day and night.

On one of those days, September 8th, they heard on the radio the news that Italy had asked for an armistice and the war was over. According to grandfather, however, it wasn't over at all, and they had only to hope that the commanding officer, General Basso, would let the Germans leave Sardinia without vain heroics. Basso must have thought like grandfather, because the thirty thousand men of General Lungerhausen's Panzer division left quietly, without slaughtering anyone, and Basso was arrested and put on trial for that, but the Sardinians were saved. Not as on the mainland. And grandfather and the general were right, because then you had only to listen to Radio London, which reported Badoglio's repeated protests against the slaughter of the soldiers and officers who were taken prisoner by the Germans on the Italian front. When grandmother was better they told her that, if not for her husband, the fever would have consumed her, and that there had been the armistice and the change of alliances, and she, with a spitefulness for which she never forgave herself, shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "What do I care."

In the high bed at night grandmother curled up as far as possible from him, so that she often fell on the floor, and when, on moonlit nights, the light came through the slats of the doors that opened onto the lolla and illuminated her husband's back, she was almost frightened of him, of this alien stranger—she didn't even know if he was handsome or not, since she didn't look at him and he didn't look at her. If grandfather was sleeping soundly, she peed in the chamber pot under the bed; otherwise, it was enough for him to make the slightest movement and she would put on her shawl and leave the room and cross the courtyard to the toilet next to the well. For that matter, grandfather never tried to approach her; he lay stiffly on the other side, though he was a large man, and he, too, often fell off, and they were both always covered with bruises. Alone—that is, in the bedroom—they never spoke. Grandmother said her prayers at night, grandfather didn't, because he was an atheist and a Communist. And then one of them said, "Good night," and the other, "Good night to you, too." In the morning my great-grandmother wanted her daughter to prepare coffee for grandfather. The coffee of that time was a mixture of chickpeas and orzo toasted in the hearth with a special utensil and then ground. "Bring your husband his coffee," and so grandmother carried the gilt-edged violet cup on the glass tray with floral designs, placed it at the foot of the bed, and immediately ran away, as if she had left a bowl for a mad dog, and she never forgave herself for this, either.

Grandfather helped with the work in the fields and he held up well, even though he was from the city and had

spent his life studying and working in an office. He often did his wife's share, too; she now had kidney stones more and more frequently, and he found it shocking that a woman should have to do such heavy work on the land, or carry water from the fountain in a pitcher on her head, and yet, out of respect for the family that was his host, he spoke of these things generally, referring to Sardinian society of the interior. Cagliari was different; there people didn't take offense at a little nothing and didn't find evil everywhere, relentlessly. Maybe it was the sea air that made them freer, at least in certain respects, though not politically, because the Cagliaritani were bourgeois who had never felt like fighting for anything.

Apart from grandmother, who couldn't care less about the world, they listened to Radio London. In the spring of 1944 they learned that in northern Italy six million workers had gone on strike; that in Rome thirty-two Germans had been killed and, in reprisal, the Nazis had rounded up and shot three hundred and twenty Italians; that the Eighth Army was ready for a new offensive; that in the early hours of June 6th the Allies had landed in Normandy.

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  • Posted June 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    perception fights reality

    "She had to begin to live. Because the Veteran was a moment and grandmother's life was many other things."



    Thought to be insane by her family, the grandmother in this story attempts to recreate a sane and normal life to prove them wrong. Her reputation and behavior dissuades suitors from pursuing her, and without marriage, life in a small Italian village circa WWII leaves her a social outcast. Shortly before the war ends, however, she meets a widower who agrees to marry her; it appears to most that he did so only out of duty to her family for their supporting him financially. Their marriage is marked by tolerable distance and quietness, and while she wishes for children, health issues prevent her from carrying a child full-term.



    Eventually her husband sends her to a health spa on the sea, in the hopes she'll heal and recover. Perhaps she does so, but too well. For there she meets a man she refers to only as the "Veteran", one who loves her unconditionally and who finds her far more fascinating and vibrant than any 'normal' woman. He thinks she's beautiful, intelligent, and witty. Finally she is loved for who she is...until it's time for her to return home.



    She returns home with new vigor and soon discovers she's pregnant. Her husband is thrilled and their marriage appears to thrive amid the love for their new son. But who is the Veteran? Will she see him again? Why did she return if she was so loved?



    Milena Agus frames the story as a narrative between the grandmother and her granddaughter, both unnamed, and flashes back and forth through different parts of their family history. The grandmother is a complex character: a woman who will secretly work like a slave to acquire a piano for her musical son, but who is unable to bear hearing him play it. As the granddaughter hears her story, she has to evaluate how much of it is true, and begins to question what role the Veteran ultimately had. More and more questions appear, but Agus keeps the story tight and keeps revealing details right until the end that ultimately turn the story upside down. Nothing can be taken at face value, and while the grandmother is possibly an unreliable narrator, maybe the granddaughter is too.



    The story is fast-paced and hard to predict, and surprises are sprinkled throughout. Images of the grandmother searching Milan, looking for the Veteran around every corner, are detailed so intricately one can practically feel the fog that obscures the city and her motives. Italy plays a supporting role as the sun and the sea seem to brighten the background of simple village life even during wartime. If anything, the story is almost too quick. More questions could have been answered or expanded upon. Yet in all, a satisfying glimpse of human perception and frailties.

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