Review: “Nives” by Sacha Naspini

If you know my reading habit and history, then you know that I probably would never have picked up this book, and that’s because I like to read books from authors I am somewhat familiar with.

That’s not to say that I discriminate against new-to-me authors, but I’m usually hesitant, and I usually read all the reviews because when reading for pleasure, I would rather not waste my time.

This time around, though, I wanted something to keep myself busy because I couldn’t sleep at night, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to read the next day.

So I opened up the Everand app (formerly Scribd), and this was the first book I saw on the homepage. Probably because of exhaustion or whatnot, I decided to give it a go and tucked myself in and started listening.

I’ll tell you right now that I was in for a very pleasant surprise because, for one, this book counts toward one of my bigger goals of reading more translated fiction, as it was originally written in Italian by Sacha Naspini; and secondly, it turned out to be exactly what I needed and even more. 

In the beginning, the titular female lead, Nives, has just lost her husband, and unlike the expectation that she should be moving through the stages of grief, it almost feels as if she is hesitant to let herself feel whatever is happening. The events are narrated in this very dry way, and we can definitely draw a line between her declining mental health and her loss because she slowly oscillates between despondency and the exuberant need to fill the vacuum her husband left behind.

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This book is also called Tell Me About It, which I feel is very interesting because the better part of the book is primarily a conversation between our titular character and a long-time friend, Loriano. During this hours-long phone call conversation, they narrate their entire lives and the lives of people around them. 

Side note: The English version of the book is translated by Clarissa Botsford, a wonderful translator who also worked on Viola Ardone’s Italian post–World War II book The Children’s Train. She also has the Italian psychological thriller The Missing Word, originally written in Italian by Concita De Gregorio, among her translation credits. 

From an editor’s point of view, looking in, I absolutely loved the book’s format because the prescribed method is to lay off on using dialogue as a primary mechanism of imparting information on the readers, but we saw that this author decided to break through those constraints and simply went with it.

I will say, though, that personally, I feel that while the constraints should be treated with caution because there are some instances where information must be passed through dialogue, it’s very important that your book has a rhyme and scheme to it.

So, in this book, the author quickly establishes this is the structure and this is going to be the “thing” of his book, so it didn’t come across as odd or bulky, and it never felt segmented. This is something you want to keep in mind as an author who is looking to experiment with different styles of narration.

Back to our story: our titular character, while in the throes of grief, decides to adopt her disabled chicken, Giaocomina, and so she brings the chicken into the house to replace her husband. But then, one day while watching TV, she realizes that her chicken has frozen in front of the television.

This is when she calls the veterinarian, who we learn is an alcoholic and turns out he is a childhood friend and a past lover whom she never got over. In time, they talk about everything from the mysterious death of one of their playmates (this is the driving metaphor of the book) when they were teenagers to his wife’s potential infidelity, and then to their ill-fated relationship.

I’ll tell you right now that I absolutely loved every element of this book because I feel like it all came together. The dialogue was sublime, the writing amazing, the way we moved from this to that felt seamless, and I really, really appreciated that.

The push and pull dynamics between both of them, and also within our titular character herself and then her childhood friend, was something else.

In this book, we got to see a very realistic portrayal of the pains of loving and losing, and also of loving and not loving at the same time.

That contrast was presented at every single point in time, but when in reference to her relationship with her husband, her daughter, and also her relationship with Loriano, it was really enlightening to see the many dynamics at play. 

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the book was the way we got to see the lives of so many different and colourful characters and how we followed different plots even though at every point it was only these two people talking for the bulk of the book. That is an achievement in and of itself, and somehow there was never a dull moment.

And I also really appreciated that both leads, our titular character and Loriano, are people in their 60s because that’s something we don’t really see these days. It’s almost as if publishing has inadvertently shifted towards the younger generation, so there’s this sort of gap that needs to be filled for older protagonists.

Once you start reading Nives, you will see that almost everything that happens in the plot is driven by small-town lore, so if you’re like me and you love delving into the messy lives of other people, you are going to absolutely love this one.

So, as I said, I enjoyed everything about this book, but I wasn’t crazy about the ending, and that’s because I personally would have preferred something open to just go with the nuance-filled and incredibly intricate plot we had been fed with up until that point.

I won’t spoil it for you, but now that I’ve sat with my feelings about the book, it definitely does feel like the ending was tacked on as an afterthought to sort of give the story more spice, but I generally feel that it was okay as it was.

Either way, our titular character learns to appreciate her own presence and sort of moves on from the pain of her past in a way that feels genuine and far from contrived, so that was a big bonus in my book because if you know me, I am a sucker for a book that imparts a moral lesson at the end.

Check this book out if you want to read more translated fiction, books set in rural Italy, or a book that stars the most vivacious 60-something-year-old I’ve ever met, and I think you’ll enjoy it!

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Hi! I'm Preye ("pre" as in "prepare" and "ye" as in "Kanye"), and I am a lifelong book lover who enjoys talking about books and sharing bits and pieces of all the fascinating things I come across. I love books so much that I decided to become a developmental editor, and right now, I work with authors to help them tell their stories better. On this blog, I share everything from book recommendations to book reviews and writing tips, so feel free to stop by anytime you like!

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