I came to read this book after hearing that Italian director Roberto Faenza was making a movie out of it (Anita B.) and I’m so glad I discovered both novel and author. It’s been a great read which I happened to find just when I was working on 20th century literature with my oldest students. I couldn’t actually use it in my lessons, since it hasn’t been translated into English and I teach English not Italian literature, but I think it gave indirectly a great contribution to my introduction of the general background context and to suggest my students connections and links coming directly from witnesses who lived and survived the tragic reality of WWII.
There's no grammar mistake in the title, it was just meant to sound "How much star is there in the sky", like in Sàndor Petöfi's ballad.
Edith Bruck, like Anita the young protagonist of “Quanta stella c’è nel cielo”, survived being imprisoned in a concentration camp and this is what makes the narration even more touching though it is never too sentimental nor melodramatic.
Edith Bruck won the Premio Viareggio Narrativa 2009 for this novel. She’s been living in Italy since soon after WWII and has become a writer in the Italian language since the Hungarian tongue brought painful memories back to her mind, the memories of being a rejected, persecuted Jewish child imprisoned in several Nazi concentration camps (Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen).
She tells she couldn’t even say “ciao” in our language when she arrived in Rome as a desperate orphan, but wanted to learn Italian and use it in order to be born again, into a new life, in order to forget those memories which were poisoning her.
She felt welcome here in our country. Italy and her were extremely poor at that time and she felt immediately at home in Rome. The experience of Anita B., the protagonist of the book, is quite different, though.
Anita , who's only 16, has just the great Hungarian poet Petöfi 's lines to warm her heart and little else sweet left in her mind. She keeps so many ripping memories inside herself, memories nobody wants to listen to. But why is nobody interested in her painful memories? Why does everybody wish to avoid talking about the war? She deeply suffers the situation which isolates her from the rest of the world and makes her feel extremely lonely and even guilty. She craves for love and understanding and this will bring her to accept and misjudge Eli’s attentions towards her.
Who’s Eli? The male protagonist of the story. Jewish like Anita, some years older than her. He is the bad guy in this story, and though I’m perversely attracted by fascinating rogues and rakes in tales, I only despised and hated this character and couldn’t find reasons enough for his wickedness.
However, let’s go back to Anita for a while.
She survived the concentration camp, she is beautiful and sensitive, life trials have tattoed her soul forever. She's running away from a Hungarian orphanage to join her aunt, Monika, who’s selfish and self – focused, vain and very attractive, only interested in Anita as useful hands in the house and for the care of her newly born baby.
Eli is Monika's young brother-in-law. He lives in the same house as his older brother, Aron, and his beautiful wife. He is the member of the family chosen to meet Anita at the border to accompany her in the journey by train to Czechoslovakia.
He will start harassing Anita since their first moments together on the train and, to her great surprise, they will have to share the same bed in the same bedroom in Monika’s poor house. Eli is young and handsome and Anita, in her inexperience and longing for even the slightest sign of affection will interpret his very selfish lust as love.
That will be the only form of attention she will be given in in her aunt's house. No kind words, no dialogue, no tenderness, no real interest. Just mere sex from Eli, some kind words from his brother Aron and a little sweetness in the moments she has to take care of Monika’s baby, her little nephew.
After the Nazi jailers, Eli is just her new persecutor but Anita doesn't seem to realize. He, on the other hand doesn’t seem to care about her past, her wounds, being too concentrated on himself and his own wounds. He is only attracted by her body and what he can offer her is just a cruel, cynical game.
Like Anita, we don’ t get to know much about Eli. He is a womanizer, apparently, a seducer. He speaks very little. His enigmatic, almost sadistic personality is quickly justified by his admitting he wants to avoid speaking about the war since he too suffered great loss: the girl he loved was killed. Is then his misoginistic attitude just a sort of revenge against destiny? Anita is alive, his girlfriend died. Can a terrible war turn a man in love into a poor innocent girl’s torturer? Maybe.
|Robert Sheehan and Eli Powell shooting Anita B.|
She finds herself a clandestine in a world still in turmoil after the war and follows her dream of going far, to the promised land, and start a new life. She will have to find the strength and the courage in herself and in her will to live on. But now, at last, she has someone to love and to fight for and she is sure she will be loved in return.
Looking forward to seeing Roberto Faenza’s movie, due to release in 2014. Ready to love Anita B. as well as to hate and despise Eli, though he will have the charms and looks of lovely Robert Sheehan.