Title: A Life Apart
Author: Mariapia Veladiano
Publication date: 16 May 2013
Publisher: Maclehose Press (Quercus)
Length: 186 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
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Rebecca’s parents were born to very different families. One wealthy, one all but destitute, they were united only by their striking mutual beauty. But the sole child to bless their great romantic fairy tale is a daughter of startling ugliness.
The shock of having given birth to such a monster leads the mother to withdraw both herself and her daughter from the world. Only by keeping her child indoors, away from strangers’ eyes, can she protect her from their disgust.
But against all odds, with a little help from some remarkable friends, Rebecca discovers a talent for music that proves that inner beauty can outshine any other.
I haven’t really had the chance to read a great amount of translated fiction before so A Life Apart was definitely unique in this respect, and a bit different from the books I normally read. But since there was something in the synopsis which really intrigued me and because I tend to like emotional stories in which the main character tries to overcome some traumatic incident in his or her life (and because the cover is so breathtakingly gorgeous), I decided to pick it up and give it a try. And while in hindsight I wasn’t particularly keen on the language and narration itself, Rebecca’s personality and her story, her journey towards accepting her looks and living a relatively normal life definitely made up for it.
What surprised me the most is the fact that the novel has quite a few magical elements in it and despite my initial expectations, it’s not an everyday story. As it turns out, Rebecca’s mother’s family has carried a taint for several generations. A minor taint which is supposed to leave your mind, your beauty and your life untouched, but a taint all the same. Now and again an unfortunate child would be born with six or seven fingers on each hand, leaving the family with no other options but to hide them from the prying eyes of their neighbours and everyone else. Hoping to escape this misfortune, Rebecca’s mother marries a handsome young man whose entire generation has been untouched by it. However, when Rebecca is born, they immediately realise that something is very wrong… for despite the father’s impeccable past and the two parents’ beauty, the baby turns out to be a freak of nature. After Rebecca is born, a heavy silence falls on the family home. Literally. She is hidden away from the outside world, is not allowed to attend nursery school or leave the house before sundown and her mother stops talking to them altogether. Not only does she refuse talking to her own husband, she never once sets eyes on her daughter. And this is where Rebecca’s journey starts: in a place devoid of any kind of parental love or affection, where she’s a prisoner in her own home.
With the help of a loving and affectionate home help called Maddalena, who looks after the girl throughout the years and stands by her when no one else does, her eccentric friend Lucilla, an overweight girl who becomes her friend on their first day at school, and most importantly music, Rebecca slowly but surely starts to come to terms with her fate and – despite everyone who’s holding her back – proves that physical beauty is not all there is to life. Apart from finding solace in music and trying to break out of the captivity of her own home, she also tries to discover more about her family and find out what the reason behind her mother’s silence was throughout all those years.
A Life Apart is a magical and touching coming-of-age saga of a young girl with a difficult past, one I thoroughly enjoyed. The parents’ behaviour might have started to annoy me at times and I’m still not quite sure it’s one of those books which I’ll remember even in, let’s say, two years’ time, but all in all it was a great story. I loved both Lucilla’s and Maddalena’s characters and really liked how the story came to an end as well. If you like this genre or you’re looking for a relatively short but great read, I would definitely recommend it.
“An ugly woman has no vantage point from which to tell her story. No overall perspective. No objectivity. It is a story told from the corner in which life has pushed us, through the crack left open by fear and shame just enough for us to breathe, just enough for us not to die.”
RatingMany thanks to Quercus for sending me a copy of this book