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A Girl Returned

Newspaper: Publishers Weekly
Date: Jun 4 2019

In her first U.S.-published work, Di Pietrantonio (My Mother Is a River) tells the spellbinding story of a girl whose life is upended by a shift in her family. In August of 1975, the unnamed 13-year-old narrator is dropped off at the apartment of her birth family in a nameless Italian town by the man that she believed to be her father but who is, in fact, only a distant cousin of her biological father. She is given no reason for being taken from the only home that she has known and given to a loveless family that she’s never met. Though she comes to love her newfound younger sister, Adriana, and her baby brother, Giuseppe, and has a few adventures—rides at a festival, returning to her home city for a birthday party for her friend Patrizia—her existence is mostly one of befuddlement, anger, and sadness. The narrative covers a little over a year, and while these vignettes do not form a plot any more than they would in anyone’s life, the narrator does eventually come to understand her adoptive mother’s choice and come to a rapprochement with her. Occasional, brief comments from the narrator as an adult reveal that she has attained a modicum of normalcy. Still, her description of herself is heart-rending: “I was a child of separations, false or unspoken kinships, distances.” Goldstein’s translation flows smoothly, giving American readers a glimpse of a different time and place. Di Pietrantonio’s story has the feel of a memoir as much as literary fiction; it perfectly captures an unusual situation in one girl’s life. (