Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone


Swimming to Elba was such a disheartening book, whoa. Incredibly well done, but a difficult read.

This novel deals with so many overwhelming themes: poverty, drugs, sex, abuse. Whenever I thought some hope may be on the horizon, that hope was dashed. I felt compelled to read on and on, but I had a knot in my stomach the entire time.

It was an odd reading experience for me. I lived in Italy when I was the same age as Francesca and Anna. Now, I’m around the same as their parents. I thought about my own experiences at their age, having such close, intense friendships, spending summers at the beach, enjoying the free-range kind of liberty that kids enjoy in small Italian towns.

However, the romanticized Italy of our travel books, television shows, and life abroad is not a complete picture. At one point in the book, Anna’s mother very bluntly expresses how she feels about her country. Through their status updates and message board posts, I see glimpses of the frustration and uncertainty my Italian friends have toward their government and the state of their economy. I can tell they are worried about what the future holds for themselves and their children.

That feeling of disillusionment, common among young Italians, is something 27-year-old Silvia Avallone nailed in this debut novel.

Her writing is gorgeous in the descriptive, expressive way that is the Italian language. Antony Shugaar did an amazing job with the translation.

I’m not sure about the ending of the book, though. Something happens that is so graphic and horrific, I was sick to my stomach. When I finished reading the last chapter, I’m not sure if I hadn’t gotten over that incident, was still stunned, or what. But I was left thinking, “really? that’s it? and now it’s over, just like that?”

You can read an interview with Silvia Avallone at the Penguin Group website. It offers a great deal of insight into her novel.

About the author

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