Originally published in 1989, this collection of Italian women writers focuses mainly on the last generation, many of whom were born either before or during World War II. Many of these authors are very well known in Italy but few have been given an English language translation. This anthology seeks to correct this and offers a wonderful sampling of these amazing writers. As with any anthology, not every story is going to work for every reader but even the stories that didn’t necessarily work for me personally still show signs of amazing literary craftsmanship. These are highly capital L Literary stories - most short stories, some excerpts from novels when there were no works of short fiction from an author to showcase.
The featured authors are Anna Banti, Grazia Deledda, Paola Drigo, Natalia Ginzburg, Geda Jacolutti, Gina Lagorio, Rosetta Loy, Dacia Maraini, Milena Milani, Marina Mizzau, Giuliana Morandini, Elsa Morante, Maria Occhipinti, Anna Maria Ortese, Fabrizia Ramondino, Francesca Santivale and Monica Sarsini. The two stand out stories for me are The Sardinian Fox by Grazia Deledda - a story about a doctor who comes into a small Sardinian town from “the city” to take care of an aging man while at the same time falling for the family’s beautiful daughter. Meanwhile, the daughter has other plans and uses the doctor for what turns out to be very nefarious purposes; and The Benedictines by Maria Occhipinti - an excerpt from her novel Una donna di ragusa, an autobiographical account of a women’s prison run by Benedictine nuns and all the horrors these women have to face. A searing portrait of religious hypocrisy if there ever was one.
While some of the other stories in this collection are quite enjoyable, others failed to grab my interest, although they were all very well written. Many of these stories deal with childhood memories, remembrances and the role of women in Italian society before and during the fascist years. It’s not often one can read writing from Italian women (never mind Italian authors in general) in English so this is a very good sampling of it. For those interested in Italian literature, this is a must. A thoroughly enjoyable collection over all. Recommended.