1930s’ Rome. Mara, thirteen, and her best friend Nadia are inebriated by their enthusiasm for Fascism and its promise of a glorious empire. They love the Duce with all their hearts and drink in every word of his speeches from the balcony in Piazza Venezia. They make great plans for careers that will serve their Motherland once they grow up. As the years go by, the dream starts to fade and cracks appear. Not all Mussolini’s promises are kept. Mara and Nadia’s paths begin to diverge, as each grows into a strong, independent woman true to herself. A novel in which fiction is punctuated with historical background, Mara is the story of an Everywoman during one of the most significant, harrowing decades of the twentieth century. Ritanna Armeni writes in a crisp, journalistic style that leaves the reader the freedom of his or her own reactions and emotions, without manipulating them.
Three questions to the author:
KG: Mara is not the first book you have written about strong women. What draws you to explore this issue?
RA: I am drawn to women’s history because it is unknown and shamefully ignored. People assume that it corresponds to that of men, but that’s not the case. It often intertwines with it, sometimes matches it, but has its own independent journey. My books are a contribution to its discovery.
KG: What inspired you to explore the Fascist period?
RA: The portrait painted of women during the Fascist period has always been incorrect and stereotypical. Contrary to what Fascism wanted and official history has reported, they were not just subordinate and submissive mothers and wives. Even when they adhered to Fascism, they cultivated their own dreams and their desire for freedom. Mara is one of these women.
KG: It would be almost strange not to mention the difficult times we are currently living through. Do you observe a difference in the way women and men are reacting to the coronavirus lockdown?
RA: Housework is still not shared equally. When women stay at home, they simply have to do household chores on top of the job they do outside. And they struggle more with it because their husbands and children are constantly there, because they are unable to enjoy the socialising that derives from an extra-domestic job, and can never clock out. Therefore, where working from home can be relaxing for men, it can be a really bad deal for women because during the same hours, unable to rely on home help, they have to clean, wash, cook and keep an eye on the children. Naturally, that’s in addition to ensuring they provide the same work from home that they usually perform outside. In the end, they work harder and in worse conditions. Although it’s always and above all the men who complain.
By Katherine Gregor
MARA. UNA DONNA DEL NOVECENTO (Mara. A Woman of the Twentieth Century)
by Ritanna Armeni (Ponte alle Grazie, 2020) Fiction
With thanks to Viviana Vuscovich, Garzanti e Mauri Spagnol, Milan.
Recently published in English translation: I’m Staying Here by Marco Balzano (Strega Prize finalist, 2018) Translated by Jill Foulston (Head of Zeus, April 2020
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.