From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus, translated by Ann Goldstein

From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, is the story of a young unnamed woman’s grandmother just at the end of WWII in Italy after the 1943 American bombing of Cagliari.  Despite the namelessness of the main characters, there are named secondary characters in the slim novel that provide it depth and the main characters some roots.  The granddaughter is telling the story of her grandmother after her death, reminiscing about the growth and change in family.

The life of this family has seem good times and bad times, with some members experiencing greater hardships than others.  The grandmother in particular has a number of suitors that fail to come back after several weeks due to rumors about her sanity.  Her own family keeps her at arms length and often hidden from public view unless necessary.  She’s the black sheep of the family, though from what we learn about her she has normal urges of a young woman and a desire for freedom.  More than that, she’s got a creative mind and a penchant for writing.

“One day my great-grandmother waited for her in the courtyard with the whip, made of ox sinew, and began to hit her until even her head was bleeding and she had a high fever.”  (Page 14)

After a number of miscarriages and failed pregnancies, the grandmother has little recourse but to take action and find away to rid herself of at least one health problem.  On a trip to take care of her kidney stones in the healing waters, the grandmother meets a young man, known only as the Veteran.  In many ways, they are the same, but they also have different tragedies to overcome.  He was a concentration camp survivor after being captured during the war, while she is an escapee from her family.  Like the many times destroyed home on Via Manno, families are built and rebuilt as the darkness is torn out of the house and light once again filters in through its large windows with new hope.

From the Land of the Moon by Milena Agus, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, is about family and how it can be ripped apart and held together by secrets.  But it also is about dreams and love, and the sacrifices we must make to live into the future.  In many ways, its about the perseverance of our ancestors and how they can shape us in the future, even without our knowledge.

About the Author:

Milena Agus was a finalist for the Strega and Campiello prizes, and was awarded the prestigious Zerilli-Marimò prize for Mal di petra (From the Land of the Moon). It is her first novel. Agus lives in Cagliari, Sardinia.

About the Translator:

Ann Goldstein is an editor at The New Yorker. For Europa Editions, she has translated three novels by Elena Ferrante—The Days of Abandonment, Troubling Love, The Lost Daughter—Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, The Chill by Romano Bilenchi, The Father and the Stranger by Giancarlo de Cataldo, and The Worst Intentions by Alessandro Piperno. Her translation of Linda Ferri’s Cecilia is forthcoming in May 2010. She received a PEN Renato Poggioli Translation Award and was a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome. She is currently editing the complete works of Primo Levi, for which she received a Guggenheim Translation fellowship. She lives in New York.

This is my 74th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.


  1. As I read your review, I couldn’t help but this that this book sounds like a wonderful discussion book.

  2. I read this last year and enjoyed it a lot. I found the ending powerful and haunting and it stuck with me for days.

  3. I’ll have to borrow this one, it sounds really good. Interesting how the main characters aren’t named…maybe because so many people suffered so much during that time?

  4. Secrets can do so much to harm families – you’d think we’d learn to quit hiding things. This book sounds really good. I need to try a Europa Edition.