Kirkus Reviews QR Code
NIVES by Sacha Naspini


by Sacha Naspini ; translated by Clarissa Botsford

Pub Date: April 20th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-60945-666-5
Publisher: Europa Editions

A recently widowed Italian farm wife spends a long night on the phone with her local veterinarian.

With its dependence on dialogue and rising tension as revelations about the characters’ pasts build toward a present-moment crisis, Naspini's short novel feels like a two-character play. The usually resilient 66-year-old Nives falls into despair when her husband of many years dies unexpectedly. Rebuffing a suggestion to leave the farm and move in with her daughter’s family in France, Nives suffers debilitating loneliness until she brings Giacomina, a chicken, into the house for company. Then Giacomina becomes paralyzed, and panicky Nives calls old acquaintance Loriano Bottai for veterinary advice. Once Bottai’s wife, Donatella, rouses the alcoholic vet and goes to bed, Nives and Bottai settle in to what becomes a verbal marathon. Their argument about the chicken’s condition leads to banter about Donatella’s snoring, so loud Nives can hear it over the phone. When Bottai mentions that his upstairs neighbor, Pagliuchi, hears Donatella too, the banter becomes gossip about Pagliuchi’s long-ago youthful affair with Rosa, a girl who threw herself from the church belfry. Nives ponders what it must be like for Pagliuchi, “living with death on [his] conscience,” but reveals that she, as well as Donatella, had problematic relationships as an adolescent with both Pagliuchi and Rosa. While Nives talks in concrete terms about Rosa’s ghost cursing them, Bottai sees Rosa as a metaphor for “that thing we all have, which sometimes keeps us awake at night"—a night Bottai and Nives are sharing as they bring up one “Rosa” after another whom they hurt or were hurt by. The two are by turns friendly and hostile, with each revelation shifting who dominates the conversation. Then, midway through, Nives declares that part of her was “massacred” more than 30 years ago, and it becomes clear that Nives and Bottai are each other’s main “Rosas,” cursed with love, resentment, vengeance, cowardice, and guilt.

A slim, sharply pointed knife of a novel.