title: Reeds in the Wind
by: Grazia Deledda (Translated by Martha King)
published: translation 1999; originally published in 1913
source: my personal library
Being the OG lit snob that I am, I first stumbled upon Grazia Deledda while browsing a list of Nobel Prize winners. One of my 2014 reading resolutions is to read more widely, and what better way to discover said writers than by perusing said list. According to the Nobel website, Deledda was awarded the prize in 1926 “for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general.”
True story about Deledda: when it comes to her literary education, she was mostly self-taught. At 13 (!!!), she had her first short story published in a fashion magazine, and her first novel was published in 1892 (when she was 21!!!). Makes a girl feel a bit unaccomplished…
Despite winning the Nobel, not a lot of her work has been translated into English. I purchased Reeds in the Wind (a novel influenced by the mythology/folklore of Sardinia) shortly after reading Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath (a short story collection heavily influenced by Swedish mythology/folklore). I guess I was on a mythology/folklore kick (???). Regardless, other than that, the two works could not be more different.
Reeds in the Wind is set in rugged, small town Sardinia, and really explores the themes of fate and penance: how much control do we have over our own lives? (i.e. are we all just reeds in the wind of fate?) How much do we really need to repent for our mistakes? When have we shown we’re sorry enough? And who are we proving that to? The story follows the lives of the spinster Pintor sisters and their devoted servant, Efix. By this point in their lives, the sister are noble really in title only, and are constantly on the precipice of losing their estate. But, being women at this time in history, they are DOING SQUAT ABOUT IT. Then there’s Efix, who committed some egregious sin before the action of the story starts (you figure out what exactly he did about midway through the piece) and spends the majority of the novel atoning for it in one way or another.
You may have noticed that I’ve used the words “penance,” “repent,” “sin,” and “atoning,” so you may have already inferred that religion plays a substantial role in the text. It does, but not in the way I expected it to. The story isn’t necessarily about the characters’ relationships with God, but primarily about their relationships with themselves (specifically Efix), despite the fact that everyone seems to be constantly headed to one religious festival or another. At the core of the story is really Efix and his interior journey.
What really struck me about Deledda’s writing were her descriptions. She has that talent for creating the world in which her characters inhabit that is so wholly transportive that I could viscerally see and feel the setting, whether I wanted to be in the rugged hills of Sardinia or not. Kidding aside, some of her descriptions are simply beautiful. My only prickly point with this piece was the dialogue. Now, I’m no expert on how folks spoke in small-town Sardinia at the turn of the last century, but the dialogue felt a bit wonky to me, a bit like I imagine a 1900s version of a soap opera to read. Comme ça:
“‘But why, Efix, tell me, you’ve been around the world. Is it like this everywhere? Why does fate break us like this, like reeds?’
‘Yes,’ he then said, ‘we’re just like reeds in the wind, Donna Ester. That’s why! We are reeds, and fate is the wind.'”
(Perhaps Marie NDiaye took a page from Deledda’s school of blatant symbolism?)
Joking aside: I don’t know if I’ll actively seek out more by Deledda, but I really enjoyed this piece for the slice of Italian literary history it was.
Rubric rating: 6.5
- Read 75 books (1/75)
- Read titles from 6 continents (continents read: Europe)
- Read titles from 20 countries (countries read: Italy (Sardinia))
- Read 10 authors that I’ve never read before (1/10)