Books & Literature

Book Review: A Woman in Sardinia, by Valeria Usala, translated from Italian by Katherine Gregor

LITERARY FICTION: In this striking debut, based on a true story, Valeria Usala bears witness to an age-old story of violence against women and takes us into the heart of rural Sardinia, where superstitions and cruelty coexist with the joys and companionship of a tight-knit community.

Dark and brooding, yet exquisitely lyrical.

Feature image credit: Text Publishing

Sardinia, 1906. In a small village, Teresa lives with her husband Bruno and their three young children. Together they run the local tavern and store. In a tight-knit, superstitious, poor community such as this, life is difficult, especially for a woman. Meanwhile another woman, Maria, is shunned by the village, yet keeps a close eye on Teresa, who is judged and gossiped about simply for leaving the house only a few weeks after her latest baby is born. Teresa’s refusal to bow to social expectations will lead her down a dark path. But will she find redemption at the end of it, or a worse fate?

A Woman in Sardinia is Valeria Usala’s first novel. Herself Sardinian, she has an understanding of the particular culture of the island, which is part of Italy, and yet a world unto itself. She uses the narrative of three generations of women to portray how little changes over the years for a non-conformist female in a conservative society. Sprinkled with rich historical and linguistic detail, this work is both a love-letter to Sardinia, and an excoriation of the darker side of its superstition and stultifying traditions.

Usala writes with a particularly Italian lyricism, which has been expertly translated by Katherine Gregor. The narrative moves at a satisfying pace, keeping the tension taut, whilst allowing space for contemplation. The prologue and epilogue are both beautiful pieces of prose poetry which encase the story, both figuratively and literally.

This is a dark, brooding, tale, with a touch of the Mediterranean Gothic. And although the narrative itself is fed by village superstitions and fey beliefs, the fundamental story remains grounded and all too real.

One for the lovers of Elena Ferrante, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Fernanda Melchor, A Woman in Sardinia will certainly put Usala onto the world literary map.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
X: @TraceyKorsten

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Text Publishing
Released: April 2024
RRP: $34.99

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