- Series: Global African Voices
- Paperback: 296 pages
- Publisher: Indiana University Press (February 19, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0253015472
- ISBN-13: 978-0253015471
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #984,608 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Queen of Flowers and Pearls: A Novel (Global African Voices) Paperback – February 19, 2015
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"Gabriella Ghermandi is part of an increasingly larger group of so-called Italian 'migrant writers' coming from Africa, Asia, and Latin America who, since the early 1990s, have contributed to Italian culture and language... though their input has not been without contention within Italian academia and its canons." ―Clarissa Cló
"[A] heart-wrenchingly beautiful novel." ―Perspectives on History
"Queen of Flowers and Pearls is a wonderful, absorbing new novel that is part of IU Press' Global African Voices... [R]eaders can be assured that Mahlet will finally discover herself and her place in the world in the course of some gratifyingly suspenseful chapters." ―
"Ghermandi weaves personal memory into collective history.... Queen of Flowers and Pearls offers a guiding perspective to help us form questions and seek answers from the present as well as the past. Perhaps most hopefully, it makes us consider the current repression in light of the past victories of the Ethiopian citizenry." ―Washington Post
"Ghermandi's patient, rhapsodic compilation reflects Mahlet's own struggle with her identity as an Ethiopian and, when she relocates to Italy for her education, as a foreigner... This singular coming-of-age story defined by political upheaval and ancestral secrets introduces a sensitive, perceptive storyteller on the brink of womanhood." ―Kirkus Reviews
"Gabriella Ghermandi is one of the authors most invested in exploring the postcolonial dimension of contemporary Italian multiculturalism, and she is to my knowledge the only one who has taken on Italy's occupation of Ethiopia as the subject of fiction." ―Allison Van Deventer, Harvard University, Bloom Magazine
About the Author
Gabriella Ghermandi was born in Addis Ababa and lives in Bologna, Italy. She writes and acts in narrative plays that she produces in Italy and Switzerland. She also conducts creative writing workshops for schools. This is her first novel.
Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi is Professor of Italian Language and Literature at Smith College. She is translator, with Victoria Offredi Poletto of Little Mother (IUP, 2011).
Victoria Offredi Poletto is Senior Lecturer in Italian Emerita at Smith College.
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Thank you for your incrdible contribution.
The secret is the story, stowed away in old diaries and manuscripts. And they tell the story of their family and its importance in the Ethiopian society. It is the first of many stories that Mahlet will listens to as she grows up. Without realizing it herself, she has a gift of attracting people from all walks of life who want to entrust her with their personal story of that of another close relative.
Each story adds a new aspect or insight into the wide- and far reaching portrait of Ethiopian society through time. In particular the time of the Italian occupation and the victories and defeats of the Ethiopian resistance as well as the suffering and perseverance of the civilian population has resulted in many stories to share.
Gabriella Ghermani, born in Ethiopian and living in Italy, has created in Mahlet a story teller of great talent. We are following her coming of age years, early on protected by her loving family, but also spending time far away in Bologna to further her education. Shifting between telling her own life story and recounting the stories she has been entrusted with, we learn more about Ethiopia and its history going back to Emperor Menelik and reaching into the present than we could from any history book. It's a history of the people, their ideas, their traditions and beliefs and their struggles. Readers, who are not familiar with, or don't have a keen interest in, Ethiopia might find the sheer number of the stories overwhelming and some too detailed and at times confusing. Despite my strong personal interests in the subject matter, I must admit that I found some sections too long and detailed and other stories less relevant than others. I received a review copy from the publishers which is very much appreciated. I read the book in English and can unfortunately not comment on the translation.
Mahlet, the narrator of the novel, is a young girl when the book opens. She has developed a knack of listening intently to her elders while pretending to be otherwise occupied. One day, Abba Yacob, her great uncle, realizes this and tells her, "You will be the one to tell our stories." And the first story he passes on is his own: how he fought in the mountains for two years as a soldier of the resistance against the Italian occupiers, only to return home when his sister fell in love with an Italian soldier and bore his baby. It takes a long time for Yakob to accept this, but he eventually does. Other stories later in the book have a similar theme: for example, another resistance fighter whose life is saved by an Italian doctor, and who stays in the hospital to work for her in gratitude.
There are traces throughout the book of the old Ethiopian ways and traditional family structures, but they are already corrupted by modern ways. For example, when Yakob first starts telling his story to Mahlet, she tells him not to speak in the manner of a children's storyteller she used to watch on TV, but to use adult words. I have a problem with the translation (from the Italian) by Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi and Victoria Offredi Poletto in that the second version of Yacob's story is not perceptibly different in style from the first. The translators quote the editor of the original edition as saying that "Ghermandi has invented a new Italian, a language based on the oral culture of Ethiopia." They aim to transmit the flavor of this duality, but I don't think they succeed; so far from giving us a striking new language, the book is written in serviceable but quite normal English, merely spiced with Ethiopian words.
Like the author, Mahlet goes to Italy for her higher education. Unlike Ghermandi, however, she returns, and it is not clear at the end of the book whether she will go back. The novel is weakened, I think, by too much time spent on Mahlet's adolescence -- her first period, her first job -- with only peripheral reference to the rigors of the communist regime, the Derg, under which she was living. But when she returns from Italy in the second half of the book, and begins rediscovering her country, its history, and its faith, the novel picks up again, giving a very good picture of an ancient culture through the eyes of one who, at least in part, has already left it.
This is not a book to judge from its cover, incidentally. The introductory poem from which the title is taken is just a metaphor, and its prettiness has little to do with the story.