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.