November 27, 2012 by markstani
Michela Murgia’s Accabadora has not been short of plaudits since it was first published in Italian in 2009: it has won six literary prizes, and it is not hard to see why. Translated by Silvester Mazzarella, it is another slice of historical Sardinian life from MacLehose Press, following Memory Of The Abyss by Marcello Fois, published earlier this year.
Like Fois, Murgia’s writing is richly rooted in the traditions of her native land, her careful prose painting a vivid picture of life in 1950s Sardinia, yet never losing sight of the primary need to entertain.
As such, for all its dark subject matter, ‘Accabadora’ fair races along, and given its diminutive nature – 204 pages for the new paperback edition – it is quite easy to imagine it being a book you could devour in a long-ish single sitting.
The book reprises the historical role of the accabadora – or quite literally ‘woman of death’ in Sardinian society, a woman appointed by each community to assist the elderly and infirm on their passage into the next world: in modern parlance, I suppose, a euthanasist.
When Bonaria Urrai adopts Maria as a ‘soul-child’ – that is, buys her right to custody of the child from her impoverished birth mother – she tries to shield her from her night-time activities.
But when a young man is crippled in an accident and Tzia Bonaria is forced to confront the terrible dilemma of whether to break her rules of familial consent, events force the truth to come out, and Maria to flee to Turin, where her new life in the big city provokes her to consider Tzia Bonaria in a whole new light.
‘Accabadora’ is a simple and effective book whose strengths lie in its entirely convincing language and in particular its eery reprise of a tradition which was apparently ongoing in some rural Sardinian communities as recently as the 1970s.
It perhaps lacks the multi-dimensional meatiness of ‘Memory Of the Abyss’, but is nevertheless a fine companion in a year which seems to have seen a real and welcome revival in translated Italian fiction.