THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. LA NON MAMMA (The Non-Mum) by Susanna Tartaro

I’m a projection of myself, my own exit poll. How is it possible that the years go by quickly, how can it be that the one that who inhabits me is a me who doesn’t grow old, that I am always her, the small, happy creature in the photo I’m looking at, hugging the girl who sits next to her at school, posing for a photograph on her tenth birthday?

I am my daughter and my mother, I’m a non-mum.

I educate and spoil myself. I buy myself whatever I want.

Not all women become mothers.  Some because they can’t, some because they won’t, some just didn’t get the chance – the reasons can be many.  Even in the present day, society as a whole still uses motherhood – or non-motherhood – to define women. Women who don’t have children get looks of pity, admiration, incomprehension, embarrassment, suspicion. They are often viewed as either selfish or unlucky by fellow women who never fail to say You couldn’t possibly understand. 

La non mamma is a collection of short prose pieces, street scenes observed by the author as she rides her moped all over Rome, imaginary lives created by the sight of people going about their business, childhood memories triggered by a familiar building,  the recollection of an abortion, dreams peopled by characters more real than reality itself.  Every detail is described with striking spontaneity and immediacy. 

When I’m on my moped, I get an idea that could change my life, the perfect solution, the right response. When I’m on my moped, the e-mail I must write to my boss comes from god, and he responds with countless career opportunities. When I’m on my moped, I invent apps, plots for books, poems. And I’m always rewarded, for my public success, for a worthy act, and I thank people with a speech that flows very smoothly on my moped, I forget no one and everyone smiles at me.

I reach my destination at the exact moment of the toast, but by the time I park and raise my glass I can’t remember the name of the book’s protagonist anymore, and as I kick the kickstand down the app no longer seems quite so amazing.

I unclasp the strap and remove the helmet, and all the moped ideas are released into the air. I tidy my hair, that’s stuck to my forehead, to pull myself together.  

I’m a moped rider even when I travel on foot. I still have that breathless expression and rush of wind about me. I’m not eco-chic, I detest scooters and the time for skateboards is over for me – the moped is the persisting dream of my finished adolescence. We moped riders are the testimonials of a generation that’s not very interesting, millennials don’t even see us and our seniors deflate our tires just so they can remain in the saddle.

When moped riders walk in somewhere, they always smile at everybody. They’re somewhat idealistic and partly cheated by life, they’re the true superheroes of survival, and not just on the road.

Each vignette is a kind of prose poem, an unfiltered admission, a remark made with disarming, uncompromising honesty. Above all, La non mamma is about freedom, the freedom to think and feel without any restraint.  A quirky as well as deeply moving and thought-provoking book, one to have nearby and pick up every so often to be immersed in a world that shows us that being a mother is not just about having children, but about a view of life.  Above all, it’s about being open and unjudging – and creative.

* Translation in italics by Katherine Gregor

LA NON MAMMA (The Non-Mum) Non-Fiction

by Susanna Tartaro (Einaudi, 2021)

With warm thanks to Susanna Tartaro.


Susanna Tartaro was born in Rome, where she now lives. She is the editor of the books and culture programme Fahrenheit on the Italian Radio station RAI 3. Since 2014, she has been writing a “Daily Haiku” blog, in which she uses a photograph and a poem as a starting point for a comment on something happening in the world.
Katherine Gregor grew up in Italy and France before going to university in England. She has been a theatrical agent, press agent, teacher and one or two other things before becoming a literary translator from Italian, French and, on occasion, Russian. She also writes original material and is currently working on a non-fiction book.

Read previous posts in The Italianist series:

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. LA COSA PIÙ DOLCE (The Sweetest Thing) by Mary Tibaldi Chiesa THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregorand and Lori Hetherington. IL GIARDINO DEI FIORI DI PIETRA (A Garden of Stone Flowers) by Valerio Luigi Beretta THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. IL GIARDINO INCANTATO (The Enchanted Garden) by Carlo Grande THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. I TACCHINI NON RINGRAZIANO (Turkeys Don’t Give Thanks) by Andrea Camilleri THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. CONVERSAZIONE A QUATTRO THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. CORRERE DAVANTI ALLA BELLEZZA (Running Ahead of Beauty) by Luigi Spagnol THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. LE MUSE NASCOSTE (Hidden Muses) by Lauretta Colonnelli

THE ITALIANIST: From STORIA DI LUIS SEPÚLVEDA E DEL SUO GATTO ZORBA by Ilide Carmignani, translated by Katherine Gregor

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THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. L’ARTE SCONOSCIUTA DEL VOLO (The Unknown Art of Flying) by Enrico Fovanna

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THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. IL GIOCO DI SANTA OCA (The Game of the Holy Goose) by Laura Pariani

THE ITALIANIST: From PONTI NON MURI by Giancarlo Ascari & Pia Valentinis, translated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. PONTI NON MURI (Bridges, Not Walls) by Giancarlo Ascari & Pia Valentinis

THE ITALIANIST: From ANDRÀ TUTTO BENE, translated by Katherine Gregor

THE ITALIANIST: Riveting Italian Books You Need to Know About by Katherine Gregor. ANDRÀ TUTTO BENE (All Shall Be Well), Writers at the Time of the Quarantine

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