A Girl Returned by Donatella di Pietrantonio

Translated by Ann Goldstein

NB: A free copy was gifted in exchange for an honest review.


We all have our favourite authors, the ones we don’t hesitate to collect their entire bibliography. Some of mine include Margaret Atwood, Ali Smith and Stephen King. But how many of you also have favourite translators?

Ann Goldstein is something of a superstar in literary circles, as she (inadvertently) became the voice of Elena Ferrante’s outstanding Neapolitan quartet since the author herself (or at least it’s assumed she is a she) remains anonymous. As a result, Goldstein has been given a startling amount of airtime compared to her translating peers. Usually the most a translator gets is a ‘note’ at the beginning of the book if they need to clarify or justify any decisions they made when translating the book in question, and then sort of fade into the background.

I studied for an MA in Translation and have read a lot of books around the ‘invisibility’ of the translator, and for the most part they don’t seem too bothered by it – after all, they didn’t write the book. But they did play a crucial part in bringing the book to wider audiences, and allowing more people to access world literature, and I personally feel like they deserve a lot more credit than just their name on the inside front cover of the book (I’m happy to see a few more books starting to put the translator’s name on the actual cover now).

Which is why, for me, Goldstein is a bit of a personal hero. I’m hoping she’ll do more to raise awareness around the effort and work that goes into translating literature and raise their profile at least a little.

This entirely too long preamble was just to give you a feel of how excited I was, then, when Europa Editions asked me whether I’d be interested in reviewing the latest book to be translated into English by Italian author Donatella di Pietrantonio, translated by none other than Ann Goldstein herself. Of course, I jumped at the chance without even looking at the synopsis of the book itself – I’m that much of a Goldstein fangirl.

Once I did read the back of the book when it arrived, I was even more convinced that it would be right up my alley. Set in the gorgeous Abruzzo in central Italy, A Girl Returned (L’Arminuta in Italian) is a sensitive exploration of mothers and daughters, responsibility, siblings and caregiving. Our unnamed 13-year-old girl narrator finds herself abruptly uprooted from what she thought was her family to a new, chaotic family and told that this hard woman who seems anything but welcoming is in fact her real mother. Her new family is large and undisciplined, but as the protagonist forms a relationship with two of her new siblings, she finds it within herself to begin again and discover a new sense of self.

Anyone who was a fan of Little Fires Everywhere or indeed Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels should think about giving this one a try, as di Pietrantonio offers a thoughtful and complex exploration of familial relationships. I studied Italian language and culture for three years at university, and one thing that’s really stuck with me is the role of the ‘mamma’ in Italy. There are ‘mammone’, mummy’s boys who live at home in their thirties (although many of them are not there by choice, it’s a case of a struggle to find employment and high rents), and the view of many Italians of mothers is still very much entrenched in cultural and religious history: a bustling figure who remains at home cooking and looking after her family.

So it was refreshing to read a contemporary Italian book which rebels against this stereotype, as the protagonist’s new mother is everything but a traditional Italian ‘mamma’. The bond between the narrator and her new-found sister was touching, especially as it’s easy to turn girls against each other in fiction; it was lovely to see them band together and stick up for one another. I wasn’t as much of a fan of the relationship the narrator formed with one of her brothers, but the less said on that the better.

Recommended for fans of family sagas and coming of age stories with female protagonists.

Abbie Walker

I'm 23, from the North East of England with a BA in French and Italian and MA in Translation, currently writing for a regional magazine. I'm an avid bookworm and have been running @ab_reads for over three years, and this year won the accolade of Bookstagrammer of the Year at the London Book Fair.


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