The farewell book to readers by Abraham Yehoshua, the Israeli writer who died today at 85, much loved in our country with which he had a special relationship and of which he felt almost an “honorary citizen”, is set in Northern Italy. Short story, considered his “Italian novel”, ‘The only daughter’, published in the Supercoralli Einaudi in 2021, in the translation by Alessandra Shomroni, raises the problem of identity and belonging, a constant theme in the works of the great writer, in comparison with the unsettling questions of a girl divided between two worlds.
The 168-page book opens with Rachele Luzzatto, “tall, with curly hair and bright eyes”, the only daughter of a wealthy Jewish family, who is proposed to play Mary in the Christmas play. The girl’s relatives are not practitioners, they do not eat kosher, but the father opposes, her only daughter, who is also preparing for the Bat Mitzvah (the moment when a Jewish child reaches the age of maturity and becomes responsible) she certainly cannot take on the role of the “mother of God”. The girl is displaced, the ideas of her father confuse her in the crucial years for her formation. You on the one hand you have to engage in the study of the Hebrew language, prayers and precepts for the Bat Mitzvah. On the other hand, she would like to participate with her Italian schoolmates in the representation for Christmas. And when, in the days of celebration and confusion, the father is diagnosed with a serious illness, Rachel’s anxieties and questions become those of every human being in the face of the mystery.
In the book, which Yehoshua has curated with particular attention for the Italian edition, there are the stories of Rachel’s paternal grandfather who, in order to survive the persecutions during the Second World War, pretends to be a priest, the convictions of her maternal grandmother, an atheist declared married with a devoted Catholic. For the first time, Yehoshua sets a story in Italy with a source of inspiration and gratitude to ‘Cuore’ by Edmondo De Amicis that his father read to him as a child.
“The teacher goes to open the door with his copy of ‘Heart’ still in his hand. – Ciccillo! – she exclaims, amused as she recognizes an old student of hers, who seems to have come straight from the pages of the book. He was sent to report that the Pupil Rachele Luzzatto must show up to the principal with backpack and coat “Yehoshua says in the first pages of ‘The only daughter’.