I have been reading some of the finalist books of the Strega and the Campiello, the top Italian literary prizes, for years now. There is almost the certainty of picking a good book from a literary prize and, at least for me, also the fun of selecting my favourite and then seeing if I have guessed the taste of other readers.
I either choose the author if I already know them or the topic that interests me the most. I had read about “Come d’aria”, by Ada d’Adamo, in the presentation of the five finalists of the Strega but I had decided to leave it aside because, usually, I don’t like reading books that promise to be “sad”.
A recent study on the human psyche concluded that we always prefer happy endings in books and films as in life. It doesn’t matter if there are obstacles to overcome; the important thing is that, in the end, we eventually achieve happiness.
I had already read, in the past, a couple of books that tell difficult stories, the most harrowing one undoubtedly being “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean Dominique Bauby. These are books that dig deep inside you, make you admire the author’s willpower, and always make me ponder about how much in life is due to pure chance despite our almost comical belief that we can control everything.
“Come d’aria” by Ada d’Adamo eventually won the Strega Prize and some reviews immediately attributed the victory to the emotion caused by the author’s death a few weeks before the final vote. It is not the first case of posthumous victory, famous in the past “The Leopard” by Tomasi di Lampedusa, controversial at the time of publication but now a firm classic of Italian literature.
“Come d’aria” is very beautiful. It works on multiple levels. It is the story of a woman and a deeply desired motherhood. It is the story of all the guilt and inadequacy that a mother with a disabled daughter experiences when she is tired, frustrated, and desperate. It is the daily diary of small defeats and big victories to make her daughter’s life as “normal” as possible. It is the awareness of being a terminally ill patient who cannot look after that daughter who is so loved and wanted.
It is the story of total, poignant love, told with simplicity, which slowly involves the readers and makes them travel a journey full of emotions, smiles and tears, not always of pain. It is a 150-page book to read and then keep at hand and turn to every now and then to find comfort, inspiration, strength, and hope.
I like to close by quoting a poem that Ada d’Adamo uses towards the end of the book. A few beautiful words, immense images to drown in:
“How do we love knowing that separation awaits us? How to fully be and know how to disappear? I do not know. These are the laws of life, its inscrutable choreographies, dances for the blind, a light breath touches our face and hands and, even though we cannot see, we know: the dance continues.” from ‘Questo immenso non sapere’ – Chandra Candiani.