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A haunting and powerful portrait of a young French girl, and her desire to escape the world in which she is born, without losing her identity In the marshy, misty countryside of southwestern France, fourteen-year-old Galla rides her battered bicycle from the private Catholic high school she attends on scholarship to the rocky, barren farm where her family lives. It’s a jour A haunting and powerful portrait of a young French girl, and her desire to escape the world in which she is born, without losing her identity In the marshy, misty countryside of southwestern France, fourteen-year-old Galla rides her battered bicycle from the private Catholic high school she attends on scholarship to the rocky, barren farm where her family lives. It’s a journey she makes every two weeks, forty miles round trip, traveling between opposite poles of ambition and guilt, school and home. Galla’s loving, overwhelmed, incompetent mother doesn’t want her to go to school; she wants her to stay at home, where Galla can look after her neglected little sisters, defuse her father’s brutal rages, and help with the chores. What does this dutiful daughter owe her family, and what does she owe herself? In Inès Cagnati’s haunting, emotionally and visually powerful novel Free Day, which won France’s Prix Roger Nimier in 1973, Galla makes an extra journey on a frigid winter Saturday to surprise her mother. As she anticipates their reunion, stopping often to pry caked, gelid mud off her bicycle wheels, she mentally retraces the crooked path of her family’s past and the more recent map of her school life as a poor but proud student. Galla’s rich, dense interior monologue blends with the landscape around her, building a powerful portrait of a girl who yearns to liberate herself from the circumstances that confine her, without losing their ties to her heart.


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A haunting and powerful portrait of a young French girl, and her desire to escape the world in which she is born, without losing her identity In the marshy, misty countryside of southwestern France, fourteen-year-old Galla rides her battered bicycle from the private Catholic high school she attends on scholarship to the rocky, barren farm where her family lives. It’s a jour A haunting and powerful portrait of a young French girl, and her desire to escape the world in which she is born, without losing her identity In the marshy, misty countryside of southwestern France, fourteen-year-old Galla rides her battered bicycle from the private Catholic high school she attends on scholarship to the rocky, barren farm where her family lives. It’s a journey she makes every two weeks, forty miles round trip, traveling between opposite poles of ambition and guilt, school and home. Galla’s loving, overwhelmed, incompetent mother doesn’t want her to go to school; she wants her to stay at home, where Galla can look after her neglected little sisters, defuse her father’s brutal rages, and help with the chores. What does this dutiful daughter owe her family, and what does she owe herself? In Inès Cagnati’s haunting, emotionally and visually powerful novel Free Day, which won France’s Prix Roger Nimier in 1973, Galla makes an extra journey on a frigid winter Saturday to surprise her mother. As she anticipates their reunion, stopping often to pry caked, gelid mud off her bicycle wheels, she mentally retraces the crooked path of her family’s past and the more recent map of her school life as a poor but proud student. Galla’s rich, dense interior monologue blends with the landscape around her, building a powerful portrait of a girl who yearns to liberate herself from the circumstances that confine her, without losing their ties to her heart.

30 review for Free Day (New York Review Books Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    The narrator is a twelve year-old girl, somewhere in France. She is in a "high school". She was raised in the marshes on a farm with poor soil. Her father was abusive. Her mother kept having daughters, until she didn't care anymore. This narrator, Galla, gets to go to high school because her intelligence was sniffed out by a teacher who gets her a scholarship. But at school, Galla is different, the other. The story is Galla riding her rusty treasure of a bike home and back and home again. She rem The narrator is a twelve year-old girl, somewhere in France. She is in a "high school". She was raised in the marshes on a farm with poor soil. Her father was abusive. Her mother kept having daughters, until she didn't care anymore. This narrator, Galla, gets to go to high school because her intelligence was sniffed out by a teacher who gets her a scholarship. But at school, Galla is different, the other. The story is Galla riding her rusty treasure of a bike home and back and home again. She remembers her family, and thinks of what it is to be different. She thinks of what it means to be truly unhappy. - In sum, if I'd been a puppy, I would have been loved. - It's terrible to be like me. - I think about myself and tell myself that nobody wants me, not even me. Then I feel sorry for myself because nobody wants me, not even me. - If I had been loved, maybe I would have been beautiful, too. - The professor said, "I see very well that you will never understand." I said, "Yes." I was reading this, and it was just another book, but then about halfway through it grabbed hold of me. The writing is special, full of symbolism - (hated aunts dressed all in black, looking like candles) - and subtle hints. The dialogue with the father is simply this, spoken by him: Get out of here. And she's looking for her mother, needing her mother, as she rests on the straw, her dog and a nurtured puppy near her. This is a book about being alone, with people all around. - When I sing it's always like someone else is singing. My voice is a stranger's voice. And when I see myself, I see a stranger, too. I wrote this in my composition, though I knew what the professor wanted. Professors always want you to talk about the things they like. This novel, not the details, is autobiographical. The reading, not the details, was, too.

  2. 5 out of 5

    JimZ

    3.75 stars. I am definitely glad I read this book. It’s only 120 pages, so it can be a quick read. Ines Cagnati writes really well (and since it is translated into English, kudos to the translator). When the book came out in 1973, it was awarded the Prix Roger Nimier. Three of the four editions of this book, 3 in the original French language, show a girl on a bike or standing next to a bike — the cover of the NYRB paperback [2019] English edition has an image of a painting, The Street of Hidden 3.75 stars. I am definitely glad I read this book. It’s only 120 pages, so it can be a quick read. Ines Cagnati writes really well (and since it is translated into English, kudos to the translator). When the book came out in 1973, it was awarded the Prix Roger Nimier. Three of the four editions of this book, 3 in the original French language, show a girl on a bike or standing next to a bike — the cover of the NYRB paperback [2019] English edition has an image of a painting, The Street of Hidden Presences, by Remedios Varo (1956) from the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City). The bike is an important element to the story. Set in the early 1950s, Galla rides her beat-up old bike 20 miles to school every 2 weeks which is a 4-hour trip away (including over rough terrain)!!! She got a scholarship to go to high school—her mother did not want her to go but Galla saw it as her only way to escape a life that held little promise otherwise. She comes from a family that has immigrated to France from Italy and she is made fun of at school for her shabby clothes. Her mother is a baby-making machine and her age is not stated but no doubt she is 20-30 years older than her actual age. Galla’s mother lost one baby on childbirth, one little child died at the age of 3…when 14-year old Galla has her physical when entering high school the doctor tells her she has a hypertrophied heart. If this all sounds bleak, it is. But I liked it. The story takes place over the course of 3 days…on Saturday when she bicycles home to pay a surprise visit back to her family one week earlier than scheduled (mainly to see her mother because she said something mean to her before she left for school one week prior to that), and then Sunday when she bicycles back to school, and then part of Monday. Some of the novel is events over those 3 days but most of it is Galla thinking of her life prior to that. What a hardscrabble life she and her family leads. A father who beats her at times, a younger sister who is blind and who adores Galla…Galla lives on a farm that has rocky soil… And then there is the ending. Here are a couple of things I wrote down from the novel while reading it: • ‘I was sad, in the face of all the sad things that had already happened, and all the others still to come.’ • ‘Then I feel sorry for myself because nobody wants me, not even me.’ • ‘Nothing you wish for ever happens.’ Here are a couple of my thoughts I wrote down after reading something: • Oh my, she’d like to see her aunts and grandma eaten up by pigs! • Oh dear God, give me a gun so I can shoot myself! So why did I like the novel? Because of the writing and how Galla speaks to the reader throughout the novella…thoughts that run through her head, her musings, what she thinks of life. Here is what she thinks of one of her aunts: From the top of the slope I looked at my Aunt Emelia’s house, which Is set back a little from the road, in a hollow. I made sure she wasn’t outside, then took a running start, hopped on my bicycle the way men do and burned past at top speed for fear she might come out. She didn’t come out. If I was the only person in the whole wide world, and the only other living being was my Aunt Emelia, I would flee to the exact opposite end of the earth so there’d be no risk of ever running into her. Or kill her, to make doubly sure. Because my Aunt Emelia is the worst hyena in existence since the world was made. The worst. I know everything she’s done, because Aunt Gina, another kind of hyena, told maman. Here is what she thinks of her beat-up old bicycle: I’m very attached to my bicycle. It’s the most precious thing I’ll ever own, even if one day I become very rich. Even if I become very, very rich, It’s simple. Without my bicycle I couldn’t go to the high school. This book was not available in an English translation until 2019. Liesl Schillinger, besides translating the book into English, also wrote an interesting introduction. Schillinger, a literary critic and writer (she worked at The New Yorker for 10 years), in addition to being a translator, teaches journalism and criticism at the Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts of the New School for Social Research in New York City, and in 2017 was named a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France. After the book’s ending there is a transcript of an interview by Ines Cagnati aired on a French literary television program in 1989 which gives insight into Cagnati’s life when growing up and about her books. Review: A really good review from a blog site: http://www.complete-review.com/review...

  3. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    On the surface this is fairly simple novel. A girl who boards out to attend a high school near Bordeaux is bicycling home for an unscheduled visit. For a long time there are no other characters other than Galla and her bike, which she considers a faithful companion. She talks to it, and she nurses it along, mindful of its broken-down state. The road is long and the rain is cold. Galla displays a Beckettian stoicism, resolute in the face of harsh conditions and disappointments. In fact, her pluck On the surface this is fairly simple novel. A girl who boards out to attend a high school near Bordeaux is bicycling home for an unscheduled visit. For a long time there are no other characters other than Galla and her bike, which she considers a faithful companion. She talks to it, and she nurses it along, mindful of its broken-down state. The road is long and the rain is cold. Galla displays a Beckettian stoicism, resolute in the face of harsh conditions and disappointments. In fact, her pluck is the reason we have the impression we've read something like Free Day before. We expect a revelation because of the girl's superheated version of reality. We can understand her remembering again and again the deaths of the family's animals. And we share her objections to her father's cruelties. We notice she fears the creek and the marshes bordering the road. So we're led to believe there's an uncompromising reality behind this girl who zigzags down the road singing to her bike and harboring Pollyannaish thoughts of her mother. And sure enough, we reach the reveal we'd been expecting. Her world is both better than she thinks and at the same time as bleak. This is a dark novel, and a cold one. It's immeasurably sad and terrifying.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris Browning

    December 2019 NYRB Book Club Selection Quietly heartbreaking in the way that only novels narrated by children (and thus suffused both with what they think they know, and, perhaps more importantly, what they don’t) can be, with a few moments of cruelty rendered so deftly that they become far more disturbing than the excesses sometimes employed for similar means. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jana

    On the sliding scale of sad and bleak, this is up (down?) there close to The Road. But in an entirely different fashion. The story is told in the voice of 14 year old Galla. She is poor and neglected. We glimpse an abusive father and an overwhelmed maman, and many sisters. She rides her ancient bike 20 miles to the school each week where she is also outsider. Again, the thing I love about books is that I can feel what it might be like for someone in these circumstances. Empathy “muscles” are exer On the sliding scale of sad and bleak, this is up (down?) there close to The Road. But in an entirely different fashion. The story is told in the voice of 14 year old Galla. She is poor and neglected. We glimpse an abusive father and an overwhelmed maman, and many sisters. She rides her ancient bike 20 miles to the school each week where she is also outsider. Again, the thing I love about books is that I can feel what it might be like for someone in these circumstances. Empathy “muscles” are exercised. In a very telling interview at the end we find out the author’s family moved from Italy to France when she was a child. Later her parents had her naturalized as a French citizen which made her sad because she felt she was Italian. And now she belonged nowhere. This feeling of foreignness is pervasive in the book. I read this in one Boxing Day. Originally was hoping to use this for my postal book pick, but I backed off. See first paragraph. Still, I highly recommend it! Note: my nyrb edition has a lovely cover which I can’t see on goodreads. I love nyrb books. QUOTE: She loves summer storms. She’s in the middle of a freezing winter. “I like to recall memories of storms and wind. Only, I don’t do it often. I don’t have many good memories, and if I go on recalling the same ones, they get used up, and they’re no good anymore. After that, there’s nothing left.” 💔

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    A short, beautiful novel told from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl. The oldest daughter in a seemingly endless stream of daughters born to poor farmers, Galla lives at a high school 20 miles from her home, and bicycles home every other weekend to help her mother. Her mother's sacrifice (allowing Galla to attend high school) amounts to a significant loss of help on the farm and emotional support. The story takes place in the early 1950s, and the poverty is stark: So that Galla will have s A short, beautiful novel told from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl. The oldest daughter in a seemingly endless stream of daughters born to poor farmers, Galla lives at a high school 20 miles from her home, and bicycles home every other weekend to help her mother. Her mother's sacrifice (allowing Galla to attend high school) amounts to a significant loss of help on the farm and emotional support. The story takes place in the early 1950s, and the poverty is stark: So that Galla will have something to carry her schoolbooks in, her mother gives up her only shopping bag, which she otherwise uses for farming tasks. On the weekend this novel takes place, Galla decides to surprise her mother by making an unexpected trip home. If Galla has an American counterpart, it might very well be another 14-year-old, Mattie Ross of "True Grit," but without a hardened gunslinger to set wrongs aright.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bud Smith

    This was really good. It’s got a great voice to it, really chatty. The writing is kind of the opposite of Camus, opposite of Raymond Carver, opposite of Hemingway, Amy Hempel, Mary Robison, and all the other short blunt writers. If something can be said once in this book, the author will say it fifty times. But, she’s something of a genius, so if she said it a hundred times it would still be beautiful. As I read it, page by page, I thought about how some modern American editors in the Gordon Lis This was really good. It’s got a great voice to it, really chatty. The writing is kind of the opposite of Camus, opposite of Raymond Carver, opposite of Hemingway, Amy Hempel, Mary Robison, and all the other short blunt writers. If something can be said once in this book, the author will say it fifty times. But, she’s something of a genius, so if she said it a hundred times it would still be beautiful. As I read it, page by page, I thought about how some modern American editors in the Gordon Lish school would have crossed out 80% of a page. So this 133 page novella would have shrank to the size of a 25 page short story. A sad thought. Sometimes chatter is the point, babble is the point. You ever sit go on a long drive and your mind won’t shut up, it keeps talking to you and you can’t even concentrate on the radio? Or lay awake at night and can’t sleep and you tell yourself the story of your life but you keep running in circles. This is what Free Day is like. The narrator is on a bicycle for most of the novel. She rides forever and back again and then off into forever again. Her mind is running and we run with it into the icy marshes and then beyond. I also really liked how the narrator can’t keep track of what tense she’s writing. Some is present, some is past, some is anything and nothing. It reminded me of Huckleberry Finn, loose and wrong and bumping into things. An adolescent narrator, going through some heavy shit, getting mixed up emotionally and physically too, poor as dirt or less, too. Santa Claus doesn’t even know her farm family exists. Pitchfork wounds. Pig attacks. Squeaky bicycles and screaming salamanders. Anyways, this is a good one. Thanks Inès Cagnati.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tom Scott

    The story takes place over a weekend told from the perspective of a 14-year-old school girl name Galla. She’s a child of poor Italian immigrants living in near squalor in southern France on a marshy forsaken farm. Her mom wants here to stay on the farm to help out but she’s (somehow) gotten herself a scholarship to a boarding high school 20 miles away in the city. The main action is Galla’s journey home made on her junky, though beloved, bike to surprise her mom with a visit. Galla is a young an The story takes place over a weekend told from the perspective of a 14-year-old school girl name Galla. She’s a child of poor Italian immigrants living in near squalor in southern France on a marshy forsaken farm. Her mom wants here to stay on the farm to help out but she’s (somehow) gotten herself a scholarship to a boarding high school 20 miles away in the city. The main action is Galla’s journey home made on her junky, though beloved, bike to surprise her mom with a visit. Galla is a young and somewhat petulant narrator so there’s a lot of stuff like the "teacher is stupid" and "I hate my grandmother.” Virtually none of the characters are described in a redeeming light which made the book a bit annoying to read. But Galla is rude because her life is pretty horrible and she’s pretty much alone in navigating it. It’s a simple, quiet, story and by the end of the weekend, Galla’s life is forever changed.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Jantz

    Miserable but also clever. I loathed this book but I felt compelled to read it for some reason. It is very good.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bhaskar Thakuria

    This is a simply written story about a simple-hearted girl thinking about and doing simple things. At the very outset we come across a dutiful young girl with a bicycle making her journey once every two weeks from the Catholic high school where she was studying under scholarship to her home. The story opens when she makes an extra journey on a frigid winter Saturday and the novel is all about her reminisces during the journey back to her past life at home and at school. The story is all about he This is a simply written story about a simple-hearted girl thinking about and doing simple things. At the very outset we come across a dutiful young girl with a bicycle making her journey once every two weeks from the Catholic high school where she was studying under scholarship to her home. The story opens when she makes an extra journey on a frigid winter Saturday and the novel is all about her reminisces during the journey back to her past life at home and at school. The story is all about her youthful expectations and yearnings and her attempt to break free from the shackles that guard her. NYRB has been doing a good job till now bringing out obscure and forgotten classics of the past for a modern 21st century audience, and they have been quite good at it. But I feel that over the last couple of months including the fag end of 2019 and the recent releases in 2020 they may have missed the mark more often than not. Of all the recent releases there have been quite a few that have caused ripples but for the majority number they have been quite disappointing going by NYRB standards. I feel that reissuing some of these titles as classics was a bit too overblown.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    haunting female psychopathy. pairs well w jelinek's piano teacher haunting female psychopathy. pairs well w jelinek's piano teacher

  12. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I feel this would have made a better short story as there was a LOT of repetition and there are only so many times you can have a character suddenly remember something out of the blue. Many of these passages felt extraneous to me (chief of these being a briefly mentioned automobile accident that as far as I could tell had nothing to do with the character or story and serves only to horrify the reader just in case instances of cruelty from the character’s own life were insufficient). While I was n I feel this would have made a better short story as there was a LOT of repetition and there are only so many times you can have a character suddenly remember something out of the blue. Many of these passages felt extraneous to me (chief of these being a briefly mentioned automobile accident that as far as I could tell had nothing to do with the character or story and serves only to horrify the reader just in case instances of cruelty from the character’s own life were insufficient). While I was not a fan of the style, very choppy and repetitive and making the narrator feel extremely immature to me, the device of telling the story through present interspersed with flashback was interesting at first, until the narrator is literally going back and forth seemingly just to cover the same ground and swing between between being very happy and unbearably sad, and nearly everything and everyone is described as sad, crazy or stupid. I did like some observations and passages of vivid description and the narrator’s interpretations of other characters’ reactions, but not enough for me to feel other than weary of the narrator and glad to be done with the book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Maxwell

    (3.5 stars) A short novel about rural poverty, dispossession and self-estrangement. "When I sing it's always like someone else is singing. My voice is a stranger's voice. And when I see myself, I see a stranger too." Two pages later: "I would have liked to be able to sing to cheer us up, but I couldn't. I was too tired. And filled with a sorrow that had no voice." Relentlessly bleak internal monologue built with a repetitive and recursive phrasal vocabulary from a 14-yr-old narrator who is an Itali (3.5 stars) A short novel about rural poverty, dispossession and self-estrangement. "When I sing it's always like someone else is singing. My voice is a stranger's voice. And when I see myself, I see a stranger too." Two pages later: "I would have liked to be able to sing to cheer us up, but I couldn't. I was too tired. And filled with a sorrow that had no voice." Relentlessly bleak internal monologue built with a repetitive and recursive phrasal vocabulary from a 14-yr-old narrator who is an Italian immigrant from a subsistence farming family in mid-century Southern France. Often the voice sounds adolescent and true, full of the resentment and compulsions of that age – at other times it feels written and constructed, with a vocabulary too rich for the character. The latter are often observed in rhapsodies of landscape that are, ironically, among the best passages of the book. The translation is largely natural and easy, and seems true to the original.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Heartbreaking, but lovely writing. Takes place largely in the head of a hard scrabble Italian immigrant girl in France, on the road between her school and her family farm. Very short, could read in a day.

  15. 5 out of 5

    freckledbibliophile

    Free Day by Ines Cagnati was a tough pill to swallow. Galla was a sixteen-year-old girl who had her share of turmoil. Her family was poor; her father beat her, her mother neglected Galla and her sisters and expected her to take care of them, all while riding twenty miles on a tattered bike twice a month to high school. Galla despised just about everyone and thought them to be disgusting and stupid. She was fascinated with death. Though I believe Galla's character was a product of the abuse and n Free Day by Ines Cagnati was a tough pill to swallow. Galla was a sixteen-year-old girl who had her share of turmoil. Her family was poor; her father beat her, her mother neglected Galla and her sisters and expected her to take care of them, all while riding twenty miles on a tattered bike twice a month to high school. Galla despised just about everyone and thought them to be disgusting and stupid. She was fascinated with death. Though I believe Galla's character was a product of the abuse and neglect her parents inflicted on her, she was dedicated to change her and her family's circumstances. The story incited me to think about the children of today. They deal with even more and forced to try and psychologically process everything going on in the world today. What became of Galla? What will become of this generation of kids? This book evokes such powerful emotions and is one of the most heart-wrenching books I have read this year.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Hà Linh

    "The bike and I, we're only at ease when we're all alone." "Poor bicycle, alone with me on this road, and poor knee. My bicycle and my knee seemed to carry all the weight of the sickly sky. I felt an irresistible urge to cry come over me, on this heavy road that stretched out everywhere. And so I cried. I pedaled harder." "All at once, it seemed as if I'd been pedaling in the dark for practically fifteen years, to arrive one night amid those lights." "The bike and I, we're only at ease when we're all alone." "Poor bicycle, alone with me on this road, and poor knee. My bicycle and my knee seemed to carry all the weight of the sickly sky. I felt an irresistible urge to cry come over me, on this heavy road that stretched out everywhere. And so I cried. I pedaled harder." "All at once, it seemed as if I'd been pedaling in the dark for practically fifteen years, to arrive one night amid those lights."

  17. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    I had never heard of this author before. Don't let the length of the story fool you; it's very heavy. The sad story of 14-year-old Galla, who is from a very poor family Italian immigrant family living in France. She fought her way to be able to go to high school rather that live at home to work on the family farm, where she is sorely needed. She rides her old, rusted bike home once a month to see her mother, whom she misses, and protect her family from her abusive father. The story takes place w I had never heard of this author before. Don't let the length of the story fool you; it's very heavy. The sad story of 14-year-old Galla, who is from a very poor family Italian immigrant family living in France. She fought her way to be able to go to high school rather that live at home to work on the family farm, where she is sorely needed. She rides her old, rusted bike home once a month to see her mother, whom she misses, and protect her family from her abusive father. The story takes place when Galla decides to make an unplanned visit home to surprise her mother. Galla is tough, but fragile, not many friends, and has an iron will that makes her a survivor.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robert B

    The painful, heartbreaking story of Galla, the 14-year-old daughter of Italian immigrants living on a bleak, barren farm in southwest France, and her inner monologue as she rides her bicycle home from and back to a Catholic high school, where she is a scholarship boarding student. Her father is violent, her mother is depressive, and her sisters are neglected. Galla’s daily setbacks and challenges are portrayed in raw detail. Not a happy novel but powerful and rich in its description of hope in t The painful, heartbreaking story of Galla, the 14-year-old daughter of Italian immigrants living on a bleak, barren farm in southwest France, and her inner monologue as she rides her bicycle home from and back to a Catholic high school, where she is a scholarship boarding student. Her father is violent, her mother is depressive, and her sisters are neglected. Galla’s daily setbacks and challenges are portrayed in raw detail. Not a happy novel but powerful and rich in its description of hope in the face of unrelenting poverty.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emily Petroff

    This short book packs a powerful punch. The writing is crisp and emotional and sucks you right in. The narrator is a teenage girl from a poor immigrant Italian farming family in the South of France in the 50s and 60s. It's an immigrant experience that you don't hear from often, so it was really interesting to read. Cagnati conveys the total isolation of growing up in a family like hers with simple but heartfelt prose. My family also spent a lot of summers in this region of the French countryside This short book packs a powerful punch. The writing is crisp and emotional and sucks you right in. The narrator is a teenage girl from a poor immigrant Italian farming family in the South of France in the 50s and 60s. It's an immigrant experience that you don't hear from often, so it was really interesting to read. Cagnati conveys the total isolation of growing up in a family like hers with simple but heartfelt prose. My family also spent a lot of summers in this region of the French countryside so it was doubly interesting for me to read a bit more on this topic.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Janine

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Strange story of a girl bicycling home from school to surprise her mother only to learn later that she has died. This takes place in France post WWII. It was a New York Review of Books book club selection. The girl is from an immigrant family so learn of that family’s struggles. Again I’m missing some of the historical connections which probably made the story harder for me to understand.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Joy

    Brutal. Veers dangerously close to poverty porn and emotional manipulation at points, but stays on the right side. An immigrant story I haven't heard before. Beautiful descriptions of harsh nature and teenage irrationality. Brutal. Veers dangerously close to poverty porn and emotional manipulation at points, but stays on the right side. An immigrant story I haven't heard before. Beautiful descriptions of harsh nature and teenage irrationality.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Willis

    What a magnificent work. I’m lucky to have stumbled upon this one.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I liked this book when I began to read it. I liked the voice of the narrator- her pluckiness, her affection for her bicycle, her effervescent spirit - but then something happened.... Galla has a hard life for a 14-year old. Her farming family is impoverished, her father is a brute, beating both her and her mother, kicking the dogs, hanging them when they get old. When Galla is 5, she sees a cow kill her younger sister; another little sister is blind. Galla has to dispose of her mother's miscarria I liked this book when I began to read it. I liked the voice of the narrator- her pluckiness, her affection for her bicycle, her effervescent spirit - but then something happened.... Galla has a hard life for a 14-year old. Her farming family is impoverished, her father is a brute, beating both her and her mother, kicking the dogs, hanging them when they get old. When Galla is 5, she sees a cow kill her younger sister; another little sister is blind. Galla has to dispose of her mother's miscarriages. (Spoiler!) When Galla's mother dies, unbeknownst to Galla, her father is so cruel, he won't let her in the house and she has to sleep in the barn with her dog. ( It is December). As the misery piles up, it starts to seem ridiculous rather than pitiable. The last straw for me was an incident in which her father accidentally hooks a salamander on his fishing rod. No-one will take it off the hook because they believe salamanders are poisonous. The salamander shrieks or squeaks for a day and a half before it dies. This is the same sound that Galla's beloved old bicycle makes when she is riding along the country roads to and from school. Oh, the horror, the horror...

  24. 5 out of 5

    James K

    A fascinating read that takes you to a very specific time and place- depicted by a very particular narrator. The reality described is harsh and the narrator piles the grimness on thick. It can feel a bit much at times but I found it authentic for a child narrator who is desperate to be cared for and loved. Would like to read more Cagnati; I was particularly struck by the unnerving mix of innocence and humour with horror- e.g. the motif of the girl's rusty bike squealing like the slowly dying sal A fascinating read that takes you to a very specific time and place- depicted by a very particular narrator. The reality described is harsh and the narrator piles the grimness on thick. It can feel a bit much at times but I found it authentic for a child narrator who is desperate to be cared for and loved. Would like to read more Cagnati; I was particularly struck by the unnerving mix of innocence and humour with horror- e.g. the motif of the girl's rusty bike squealing like the slowly dying salamander and how she describes the disposing of a stillborn baby.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

    At first, I was wary of what I perceived as this author’s aestheticizing of trauma. I also found the florid prose to be a bit over-done considering the narrator is 14 years old. Descriptions of the smells of spiderwebs and comparisons of trash and to sentinels stretched my suspension of disbelief at times. That said, this book is a beautiful sonata. The inclusion of the interview with the author at the end provided context that I really appreciated. This book faces the difficulties of an unhappy At first, I was wary of what I perceived as this author’s aestheticizing of trauma. I also found the florid prose to be a bit over-done considering the narrator is 14 years old. Descriptions of the smells of spiderwebs and comparisons of trash and to sentinels stretched my suspension of disbelief at times. That said, this book is a beautiful sonata. The inclusion of the interview with the author at the end provided context that I really appreciated. This book faces the difficulties of an unhappy childhood head on, and its voice is fearless and enlightening.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    This was almost too clear-eyed a look at a child’s perspective of how cruel the world can be. Its disarming directness was beautiful in its way, but it made my heart hurt with how hard a life this girl just takes for granted, and how fundamentally alone and unprotected she is from the world’s harshness.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Bautista

    Tragic is not quite the right word to describe Cagnati’s depiction of childhood in this novel. There is extreme solitude and suggestions of cruelty and violence. As I was reading, I wondered if the story would eventually tip to horror. Cagnati didn’t go that far, but this book still isn’t for the fainthearted.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

    Very dark and repetitive

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tom Wascoe

    Story of a young girl (very unhappy). It parallels the author's life. Story of a young girl (very unhappy). It parallels the author's life.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Polansky

    I read this book.

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