Author: ROSA VENTRELLA
Title: THE SLANDER
(LA MALALEGNA/LA MALDICENZA)
First Publisher: Mondadori
Publication: May 2019
IN THIS FAMILIAR SAGA, THE AUTHOR BUILDS THE STORY OF TWO SISTERS AND THEIR FAMILY, THE STORY OF THE STRUGGLE OF WOMEN AND MEN AGAINST THE ABUSE OF POWERFUL LANDOWNERS IN PUGLIA IN THE '40S AND' 50S. A POWERFUL NOVEL IN WHICH THE BEAUTY AND STRENGTH OF WOMEN KEEP LOVE AND BONDS ALIVE. THE MAGICAL AND MYSTERIOUS ATMOSPHERE OF THIS SMALL UNIVERSE, RECALLS THE ANCIENT LEGENDS AND MYTHS OF THE SOUTH OF THE WORLD.
A POIGNANT NOVEL, WITH A RICH, COLOURFUL WRITING THAT BEAMES SOUNDS, SMELLS, PERFUMES AND FLAVOURS AND IN WHICH EACH SINGLE WORD HAS BEEN SKILLFULLY AND WISELY CHOSEN.
“The last words I had for my sister, were spoken from far away, only whispered to myself. The last glance I gave her was instead over her lifeless body, her pale arms, her swollen and flabby skin. I studied her flesh and all the things she wouldn't have done anymore, the scratches on her ankles, her perfectly manicured nails, her long and thin toes. I always found her feet very ugly.
Her toes were long and disharmonious compared to her flat and fat big toe. Maybe I was just looking for an evident flaw that could erase the illusion of perfection. I counted the seconds while I gazed at her lifeless feet. Twenty-two. The same number as the years she had lived. My eyes filled with a drizzle as I stared at her body. One foot standing straight, rigid, the toes fixed in a non-action, the other one was slightly bent, as in a clumsy pose.
Now I know this is the reason why I stayed. To tell the story of each one of us. “Easy peasy” as grandma Assunta, used to
say, starting from the beginning. The actions from the past will return and those still to be will lose their meaning.
Once again legends of wolves and witches have come back like a draught sneaking into the houses from under the doors.
«And where will you start from?», asks my father. Maybe he sees this sadness coming from far away. It startles me all of a sudden, especially while I’m asleep. I feel a subtle gasp at night like faint footsteps in the distance, the squeak of a toad. What do I know about her? I ask myself while nostalgia grabs me unexpectedly. What do I know about us? Horses ridden by brigands, who have hidden the treasure in the tower of Cardo, are approaching with black mantles. I hear them beat like a drum. A time that tastes of happiness, anxiety and anticipation.
«From our childhood», I answer I have to start from there. From me and Angelina.
The land of Arneo, a vast countryside landscape, between the territory of Manduria, near Taranto, and Nardò, the center of Puglia’s agriculture. Rosa Ventrella’s novel is about this land, Puglia, a collective fresco, which embraces a very significant decade for Italy, and recalls the best neo-realistic expressions. Nardo and Caterina’s average life turns into the saga of an entire population, the story of its struggle, its love and its survival becomes the optic filter of a unanimous event. Destiny gives and takes everything from this family, touched by war, by the late 1940’s Socialist struggles, when possessors stole lands, the oppression of Baron Personè, one of the most powerful landowners. In a race against time, the protagonist Teresa, first child of Nardo and Caterina, will lead the reader through a turmoil of images and emotions. Teresa tells her dying father the story of the Sozzu family, and in this reverse narration, Nardo Sozzu will discover ways and times, in a journey towards redemption. Teresa puts the story of her family together, reliving it from her childhood until the premature death of her sister Angelina, a fragile and rebel flower, born with a perturbing beauty inherited by her mother Caterina. But the small town leaves no space for outsiders, a tiny cosmos, where even beauty can be condemned. As it was for Caterina, during the war, when the struggle for survival is entangled with the daily battle against the slander. The shame, the disgrace. A
famished Caterina carries out the most terrible of acts for a wife, she sells/gives herself to Baron Personè, saving her daughters and condemning herself. Teresa tells, in a fragile, intense and piercing voice about her mother’s pain and shame, drowning with a visceral and archaic language, into the incandescent matter of life. Her childhood memories, the adversial relationship with her sister Angelina, always more wild and courageous, the stuttering that forced her to snatch every emotion in order to be able to reveal them to others, emerges clearly and without redemption, bringing the horror of women at war to life, such as the rape her mother was subjected to by the Cardo brigands. The distance between the protagonist and her sister, grows during adolescence. The more submissive and gentle Teresa accepts, although with pain, the destiny that all the women in the village have to go through.
Meanwhile Angelina feels trapped in a small box and dreams to run away. While the two young women experience the sprout of their femininity, Nardo and Caterina have to struggle for their survival. These are, in fact, the years when farmers battled to regain the land from the barons. Teresa’s father joins the Socialist leagues, together with the young Giacomo. The farmers fight their battles with pitchforks, defying Baron Personè’s wrath, undergoing defeats and victories, and finally winning their so longed piece of land. The novel is also a story of the people, a choral tale about those who were forced to fight in order to carry on, in the eternal struggle between the rich and the poor, between the good and the evil. The village alleys are also full of yentas, who spend most of their time sitting on their step doors, gossiping and peeking all around. They know everything about everybody, they follow every misfortune and they mistrust all those who have a different opinion from their relentless chirping, such as Angelina and her mother, both considered whores, the Baron’s whores. In fact, Angelina, certain of finding redemption, falls in love with Persone’s son and marries him against her father’s will, who will ignore his daughter after this affront. Convinced of the found happiness, she will instead experience the emptiness and the solitude of betrayal. Angelina, the beautiful but fragile flower, will be blown away by the events and will commit suicide in her beautiful country manor. Teresa will put her last moments together, by reading out loud the diary her sister gave her before dying, a sacrifice that will seem necessary at the eyes of the reader, the undeniable proof that black and white cannot be mixed, and that each person is just who it is. Grandma Assunta always used to tell her granddaughters that the big fish eats the small fish. The shy and bashful Teresa will end up by holding the reins of a family whose destiny was broken apart, putting back together the pieces that will reconcile her father with
Angelina’s soul. It will him in fact, once old, to beg Teresa to give voice to the story of their family, from the days of happiness to those of darkness, up to the final epilogue of Angelina’s suicide, which weighs on his soul like a tombstone. Nardo will finally die happy, asking for his daughter’s forgiveness and forgiving her. Teresa’s powerful voice, moved by the inextinguishable desire for diversity has enhanced the souls of the three women in this story, the mother and the two daughters, trapped in a poisoning and narrow basement. The shame, moves Teresa’s voice in a delicate pace, guiding the reader through the alleys of a bitter and indomitable land. Twenty years of history seen by the eyes of a little girl grown into a woman, who uses the lens of memory, to describe the events of an entire country. In the end, the union between Nardo and Caterina, their family, remains the only truth; the lifeline that gives birth to a new awareness, in which time inevitably changes the events, mutating their color, and where the only thing that remains is the bond. The novel shows the strong fatalistic sense of an ancestral curse, where the yentas murmurs, the brigand’s damned voices and the villager’s judgment, is part of the past, the present and the future in southern Italy, and becomes a live character who changes, for better or worse it’s children destiny, wherever they spread across the world. Therefore even that tiny piece of land in Puglia, covered in bramble and prickly pears, with it’s Mediterranean colors and smell, with its ancient legends, becomes the protagonist and takes shape throughout a vivid and intense language which is not afraid to deeply move, while celebrating the human soul’s resilience and the strength of the bond that can survive over everything.
Rosa Ventrella was born in Bari and teaches Italian Literature. Graduated in History, she has given several lectures on the condition of women in history and in her novel counts passionately about the feelings and worries of women. Her novels, Il giardino degli oleandri, (Newton Compton, 2013) has sold over 50,000 copies, for months in the charts of the best-selling novels and also translated abroad (Germany, Poland, Greece, Serbia and Lithuania) and Fiori di magnolia, (Amazon Publishing, 2017), for months in the top 100 best selling ebook of contemporary fiction. In April 2018 her novel Storia di una famiglia perbene (Newton Compton) was the literary case of the London BookFair, the film rights were sold to the 11MarzoFilm and Emons will soon make an audiobook. Translation rights have been sold in 18 countries.
Storia di una famiglia perbene (Story of a decent family) Newton Compton
Foreign rights sold to:
UK/US: Amazon Crossing
GERMANY: Goldmann Verlag/Random House (two-book deal)
FRANCE: Les Escales
SPAIN: PHR/Suma de Letras
THE NETHERLANDS: Xander Uitgevers
GREECE: Patakis (two-book deal)
CZECH REPUBLIC: Argo
POLAND: Sonia Draga
SERBIA: Vulkan Izdavastvo (two-book deal)
LITHUANIA: Alma littera (two-book deal)
PORTUGAL: Leya Dom Quixote
NORWAY: Vigmostad & Bjørke AS
BRASIL: Casa da Palavra
ISRAEL: Haaretz (two-book deal)
FILM RIGHTS: 11marzo Film
AUDIOBOOK: Emons Audiolibri