“Don’t waste your love on somebody, who doesn’t value it.”
— Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet
The question is: who determines what’s wasted?
In one of my new favorite books, From the Land of The Moon, Milena Agus answers this question. At first, I thought this was just a simple story of a typical (Sardinian) woman. The only interesting part was that the grandmother thought herself mad. She had a bit of Alice and a bit of Sexton with a pinch of history.
“And later, when she lost the babies in the first months of pregnancy, she said that she would not have been a good mother because she lacked the principal thing, and her children were not born because they, too, lacked that thing, and so she shut herself up in her world of the moon.”
Early in the grandmother’s life, her entire family was upset with her especially when she chased away suitors writing them love poems like a mad Dickinson (aren’t all Dickinson’s mad)?. I should probably tell you that this family is Sardinian (a small island in the Mediterranean, don’t feel bad, I had to Google it too). I find it really interesting that all over Google, it says that Sardinian women are the most beautiful women in the world, and that they age most gracefully and beautifully as well, living longer than most other cultures. This book shows them as so much the opposite of that.
It’s narrated by a granddaughter looking back at her grandmother’s life. Her grandmother had a very secret life, not because she held a lot of secrets, but because she stayed mostly within her own head.
“In fact she thinks we should be grateful to grandmother, because she took on herself all the disorder that might have touched papa and me. In every family there’s someone who pays the tribute, so that the balance between order and disorder and the world doesn’t come to a halt.”
When she’s already a rotten egg according to the fairytales and her family no longer believes she’s going to be married, a man comes to stay in their house after his whole family is killed in a bombing during WWII. It might be worth reading the book, just to read the story of the birthday cake. The family signs her away to this unknown visiter and for the rest of her life, she questions their love. At first, she’s afraid to bring him his morning tea and just sets it in the floorboards below before he wakes up. Then, she convinces him to no longer attend the “happy ending” houses in their neighborhood. I think this is one of the more true love stories of our generation. There wasn’t ever a complete 180 in acknowledgement that this was a true love, one that stood the test of time, and wasn’t made of superficial conversations, Facebook photos, and no compromise.
This relationship really begins when she is sent away to get well after continually carrying kidney stones instead of children. Her husbands sends her to a spa escape where she rarely eats, watches men read newspapers on a balcony overlooking the sea, and buries the stones where they can’t block her children from coming any longer.
I wasn’t a believer in this relationship until the very end of this book when I was tearing up. There’s a parallel love story that I can’t really tell you anything about, which makes it really hard to review this book, but also makes it one of the most complete works of fiction (imagination). This book examines the truths of diaries. Even I sometimes wonder whether I should actually write what I’ve written into my diaries. Or should I sugar coat some of the parts. As I write, I imagine a future daughter reading it and sometimes I crumple a little bit, lack courage in my actual thoughts. It displays my real insecurities. My mom asked me yesterday if I had already asked a friend to burn them after I die like Oprah, but I’m not sure I can. There’s so much raw truth of myself in those diaries. I think it would be unfair to that part of myself that leaves nothing unsaid.
And that’s what this book does. It leaves it all on the page. It leaves letters, truths, disappointments, madness, sexual rebellion, sexual expectation, desires, looming memories, distant travels, and the wants of an everyday woman that are so similar to some of my wants, it’s odd. Milena Agus knows her women and knows what they hide in the folds of their aprons, and the locked drawers of their desks.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book and it’s a book that I may have wanted to write in the future, but I was lucky enough to be a reader instead. I’m wondering now which life the grandmother chose to lead, the one of her imagination or the one with a man who would walk through the snow without a scarf, missing his local potato ravioli and porchetto.
And which man is more real to the woman feeding them? You’ll have to read this one. Short enough to read during afternoon tea at only 108 pages, if you’re in Britain, or if you’re american one of those all day coffee binges like I’m having now.
Binge on books. Binge on coffee.
“…her husband was a lucky man, really, and not, as she said, unfortunate, cursed with a poor madwoman; she wasn’t mad, she was a creature made at a moment when God simply had no wish for the usual mass-produced woman and, being in a poetic vein, had created her.”
What are the truest love stories you have read lately? What love stories may have changed your idea of love? How do we determine what is world literature and what isn’t, or what deserves to be a vintage book? Do you plan on reading this one or did my review not do it justice? Talk below.