Wednesday 21 December 2016

Bella Mia by Donatella Di Pietrantonio @CalisiPress @FrancaSimpson

A moving and unsentimental story of inner reconstruction after a devastating loss

Shortlisted for the prestigious Premio Strega in Italy in 2014, this is the story of a broken family coming to terms, in the aftermath of the earthquake in L Aquila in 2009, with the loss of one of them - a twin sister, a daughter, a mother while living in temporary accommodation on the outskirts of the city. 

The terse and clean voice of the spiky, single, thirty-something female narrator wards off sentimentality while guiding us through the inner reconstruction undertaken by each character individually and by the family as a whole, letting us witness the extraordinary poetic power of love and the renewal of hope.

Bella Mia by Donatella Di Pietrantonio was published in paperback in the UK by Calisi Press on 23 November 2016, and is translated from the Italian by Franca Scurti Simpson.

The story takes place three years after the devastating earthquake that shattered the Italian town of Aquila in 2009. Over 300 people died, 1500 were injured and 65,000 of the residents were left homeless. The earthquake not only fractured the fabric of the town, ruining houses and businesses, it also shattered families. Leaving a huge sense of loss behind in its wake, with loved ones missing and the survivors dealing with their feelings of grief and guilt and helplessness.

Bella Mia is narrated by Caterina who has been re-housed in the temporary pre-fab buildings on the outskirts of the town. She lives with her mother and her nephew Marco. Marco's mother Olivia was Caterina's twin sister and her death in the quake has changed their family forever.

Expertly translated by Franca Scurti Simpson, Bella Mia is a beautifully imagined story, full of raw emotion and blinding grief, and explores the dynamics of a family who grieve, but are not united in that grief. Each character is crafted perfectly, with special mention to Caterina who has many flaws, yet her vulnerability and humanity shines through on every page.

The author cleverly explores the pain and the loss felt by each character whilst allowing them to slowly rebuild their lives. Olivia's presence is always felt, she will never be forgotten, but the author enables the characters to grow, slowly and gradually, using their pain to guide their way.

Bella Mia is just under 200 pages long, but the emotional impact is huge. Character led and quietly moving, it is a clever and unsentimental novel. Sensitively handled, memorable and very powerful.

My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Donatella was born and grew up in Arsita, a small village in the province of Teramo, and now lives in Penne where she practises as a paediatric dentist. From the age of nine she has been writing stories, fables, poems, and now novels. My Mother Is a River is her first novel. It was first published in Italy in 2011, where it won the Tropea and the John Fante literary prizes , and was translated into German in 2013. Her second book, Bella Mia, published in 2014, won the Brancati Prize and was shortlisted for the prestigious Strega Prize.
2011 - Mia madre รจ un fiume - My Mother Is a Rivertranslated by Franca Scurti Simpson (2015)
2014 - Bella mia - Bella Miatranslated by Franca Scurti Simpson (2016)

Franca Simpson – After a couple of decades working in advertising, local government and finance management, I became a freelance translator and have been working with words ever since.
A member of the Translation Association and the Institute of Translation and Interpreting, in 2012 I went back to university to study for an MA in Professional Writing at London Metropolitan University, the first step on a self-discovery journey which eventually led me to Calisi Press.
Twitter @FrancaSimpson   @CalisiPress


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