Reeds in the Wind

by Grazia Deledda

Chicago Sunday Tribune, September 20, 1998

Publishers Weekly, September 21, 1998

World Literature Today, Winter 2001

Italian Americana


Chicago Sunday Tribune, September 20, 1998
Reviewed by Todd Gitlin

Surely, in a time when the most obscure female novelist may be instantly catapulted to canonical status on the strength of her sex and previous obscurity, a writer of the emotional power of Grazia Deledda is overdue for literary resurrection.... It is easy to be transfixed...by the bluntness of Deledda’s characters’ emotions, the harshness of their lives, their rawness and violence, sometimes their downright weirdness — or as they say in the academy nowadays, “otherness.”... Most of the strangeness in [Deledda’s] books does not arise from local color. The strangeness that counts is that of the gnarled, interrupted passions of family life. Rarely are her stories wrapped in impressionist gauze, and for all the folkloric gaudiness, the family patterns are recognizable. Intense bonds are ready-made to break.... There is frequently a biblical quality to Deledda’s prose.... It is hard not to feel, when reading her, that whatever the particularities of late 19th-century Sardinians, her readers are getting close to some pure ore of human emotion.


Publishers Weekly, September 21, 1998

Published in Italy in 1913 but never before translated into English, this richly atmospheric novel by Deledda (1871-1936), the second woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature ( 1926), is a tale of penitence, salvation and a Christian-peasant notion of destiny. Deledda (Cosima; After the Divorce) traces the decline of the noble Pintor sisters, who live in Sardinia at the turn of the century. Proud but poor, the three sisters, Ruth, Ester and Noemi, are reduced to selling their farm's produce clandestinely from their own house.... Deledda beautifully captures the rough, malaria-ridden Sardinian setting, where superstition vies with theology, folklore has a strong hold on the imagination and ‘the sound of the accordion fills the courtyard with moans and shouts.’ The novel bears some resemblance to Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard in its depiction of the decline of a noble family and to Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli in its portrait of 20th-century peasants who still harbor medieval beliefs in sprites and witches. In a conversation with one of the Pintor sisters, Efix [their servant] muses, “We are reeds, and fate is the wind.” Deledda evocatively depicts the desperate plight of the peasants who hope for a heavenly redemption from their earthly hardships.


World Literature Today, Winter 2001
Reviewed by V. Louise Katainen, Auburn University

When Grazia Deledda (1875-1936) won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1926, she became only the second woman to receive this high honor. Born in Sardinia, Deledda moved in 1900 to Rome, where she wrote many novels and short stories focused primarily on Sardinian peasant life. Deledda’s writing is characterized by an intense lyricism. Though she was influenced by naturalistic writers such as Emile Zola and Giovanni Verga. Deledda’s concentration on the metaphysical, as well as on the physical, imparts to her prose a singular urgency that distances her works from those of the abovementioned authors, whose primary aim was to portray with “scientific” objectivity the societies inhabited by their characters.

Reeds in the Wind, Deledda’s eighth novel (depending on how one counts), was published in 1913 under the title Canne al vento. It tells the story of the Pintor sisters, Ruth, Ester, Noemi, and Lia, who live in early-twentieth-century Sardinia. The aristocratic Pintor family was once wealthy, but now the three surviving sisters, long bereft of both parents, are barely eking out a living in their dilapidated home. Indeed, they would not even have a roof over their heads were it not for the forbearance of their loyal servant Efix, who is himself old and in failing health. Without remuneration, Efix has helped the sisters survive for years; he has done this because he feels a deep loyalty to them, but also out of a strong sense of guilt. Why Efix feels guilty constitutes the crux of this fascinating story of a noble family in decline. As we follow the actions of the primary characters and share the memoirs of Efix, we learn about the past history of the Pintors, and indeed of the entire Sardinian village in which they live.

A dreamlike quality envelops the story. Past is present, and the future will seemingly always be like the past. In Deledda’s subtly lyrical style, the past is both something to be revered and an obstacle to individual and societal growth. Hence, enduring traditions are equally a trap and a treasure. In Deledda’s Sardinia, life goes on in eternal cycles dominated by nature's seasons. Deledda’s principal stylistic tool is the simile, which she employs abundantly. The human world is compared to things of nature: the land, vegetation, birds, and animals. Contrariwise, the natural world is anthropomorphized, so that it becomes as alive and as knowing as the people who populate it. Thus, the division between the human and the natural worlds is blurred; the two melt together to produce a pantheistic whole. What Deledda is attempting to convey by joining the worlds of nature and human society is that for the characters of this powerful novel both the natural and the human are indispensable and inseparable parts of their known universe.

Deledda succeeds in portraying a society in slow transition, a society incredibly distant from that of modern times. Old traditions, superstitions, and a seemingly immovable feudal social structure block creative adaptation to new circumstances. Though separated from the western coast of Italy by only about 150 miles of sea, the Sardinia that Deledda conjures up is an island populated by a few anachronistic nobles and a majority of fatalistic, poverty-stricken peasants, who seem locked in an unchanging world of self-perpetuating misery. They are, as the title of the novel suggests, reeds bending before the winds of fate, unable and/or unwilling to alter the trajectory of their lives’ journeys.

Martha King, professor emerita of the University of Maryland, divides her time between Italy and the United States. Her superb translation of Deledda’s novel reads like the wind moving gently through reeds. It is plain and direct, honest to the original. The presence of the translator is never in evidence.… A short introduction by the Sardinian ethnographer Dolores Turchi provides useful background insights. Because King’s is the first rendering into English of this powerful and undervalued novel, it is a welcome addition to world literature in translation. It is highly recommended for those interested in world-class literature, in women’s literature, or in the rapidly vanishing world of the European peasant.


Italian Americana
Reviewed by John Paul Russo, University of Miami, FL

What Thomas Hardy did for Wessex and Faulkner for Yoknapatawpha County, Deledda did for the Barbagia, the mountainous region of central Sardinia: she found the universal in the particular. Where to begin among her many novels? I recommend this new translation of Canne al Vento (1913). Readers who want to improve or retrieve their Italian would do well to place the original text alongside this translation, because Deledda writes a beautifully limpid, accessible prose to which King, as in her translations of Elias Portolu and Cosima has been scrupulously faithful. Set in 1911-12, the years of the Turkish war, the novel tells the story of the noble, impoverished Pintor sisters, their handsome scapegrace nephew Giacinto, and their old servant Efix (one of Deledda’s unforgettable characters and the book’s moral center). Deledda depicts Sardinia in the period of transition following the Risorgimento; lands belonging to families for centuries suddenly become commodities with rapid turnover; people leave, never to return, either for “the Continent” (i.e., Italy) or “America.” As one local says, “at a distance [America] looks like a lamb ready for shearing. Go near it and it eats you like a dog” (60). Yet amid the turmoil rises an immemorial Sardinia of vast panoramas and wild seacoasts; of pilgrims climbing to remote sanctuaries and of bandits hiding deep in the macchia; of the lonely tanca (farmstead), woodland lanas (spirits), and somber nuraghi (prehistoric towers); and of an ancient wisdom expressed in a poetic vision equal to its subject matter. “We are the reeds, and fate is the wind.”

Deledda was the second woman (and second Italian) to win the Nobel Prize for literature. It is a symptom of the decline of good reading that she has not found an audience in the English-speaking world. The fine translations by King and Susan Ashe (After the Divorce) could begin to remedy tile situation. “A writer of the emotional power of Grazia Deledda,” comments Todd Gitlin, “is overdue for literary resurrection.”




Copyright © 2016
ITALICA PRESS, INC.