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Clara is on the way to Rome, in order to sort out the personal effects of her friend Ines, who has died suddenly. They were both born in the (fictitious) village of Stillbach in South Tyrol, and they remained in contact with each other even after their time at the same grammar school. Clara lives in Vienna, is the wife of a doctor and the mother of a daughter who is nearly eighteen years old, while Ines has taken a job as an editorial assistant in a publishing house in Rome for a few years. She makes end meet by giving coaching and doing translations and is working on a publication in several volumes when death overtakes her. This is the starting-point for Sabine Gruber’s novel, which – alongside Maja Haderlap’s Slovene family history "Engel des Vergessens" (Angel of Forgetting) – is one of the most important books to be published recently. Gruber also chooses a historical subject and is able to combine it with a biographical tale.
Ines’s researches centre on Emma Manente, who was also born in Stillbach and who – like many South Tyrolean women and girls – made her way to Rome to work in a hotel there. It is a look back into the forties of the previous century. Emma is engaged to Johann, a German soldier who is spending some time in the Italian capital, but is killed in the attack on the Bozen Regiment in the Via Rasella in March 1944, when a group of resistance fighters blow up a rubbish cart. The response of the Germans is a massacre, with 355 civilians being executed in the Ardeatine caves. Ines gets to know Emma Manente in 1978 when she goes to her hotel to earn some money. This is the novel within the novel, experienced from the point of view of the seventeen-year-old first-person narrator and from the perspective of the adult Ines, who discovers the fate of her strict boss.
Sabine Gruber skilfully combines her fictitious story with historical facts. The novel, outstandingly researched and supplemented by a helpful glossary, not only illuminates the fate of many South Tyrolean women during the inter-war period but also touches on the process of coming to terms with the past and thus on the recent history of Italy – in a manner which is full of subtle distinctions and allusions, and free of any rhetoric of vengeance.
Abridged version of the review by Ulrike Tanzer, October 2011. English translation by Leigh H. Bailey.
Full German text: http://www.literaturhaus.at/index.php?id=9226
[ book info ] Gruber, Sabine: Stillbach oder Die Sehnsucht.
(Book language: Deutsch)
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