Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Silent Duchess by Dacia Maraini

"The executioner continues to chew pumpkin seeds and with a defiant look spits the husks high into the air"
I have to admit that I don't even remember buying this book. It is a habit of mine; random book buying. In any case, this one was rather intriguing. A translation from Italian, there was something about the traumatic tale of a young deaf, mute woman married off to her old, wrinkly uncle that kept the pages turning. Lord knows even the prospect of having to marry one of my uncles would have me jumping off a cliff pronto and yet this heroine displays an almost never-ending resource of internal fortitude.  The setting of the novel, however, was quite some time ago and marriage to keep assets "in the family", perhaps was a potential kindness for a girl who would otherwise be tortured or left to rot. Sadly not many choices back then. 

The novel commences in quite horrific fashion with Marianna's father attempting to scare her into speech by taking her to a public execution. Well I guess there were no real housewives on the television in those times. Perhaps, I'm being a little flippant here.  The story is strangely compelling. There is a real sense of struggle for the powerless deaf mute and I was surprised by how engrossed I became in her struggles.

Having just googled the author, I note that she sounds particularly intriguing ; perhaps her  time spent as a child in a Japanese internment camp, gave her the tools to so vividly evoke a feeling of being trapped and without choices. What is so compelling is that a character with no real voice, can have such an impact.  Duchess Marianna's communication through writing is also reflective of the story telling process itself and this lends the tale added texture.

5 out of 5 times reading through this I was glad not to be cursed with the baby making duties of a silent Duchess.

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