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The unnamed narrator of Esther Kinsky’s novel Grove (2020) takes an unusual and somewhat bleak Italian journey after the death of her partner. During her stay in a village southeast of Rome in the winter, armed with a camera wherever she goes, she contemplates the uneasy relationship between spaces for the dead and spaces for the living, and observes the strange graft of post-industrial decay and the haphazard reclamation of nature around them.
Her wanderings lead to memories of her life and especially childhood trips to Italy with her late father, an erudite but domineering figure who seems to frustrate her but nevertheless leaves her bereaved by his absence. Her descriptions of the village scenery and later journeys to other places in Italy are incredibly precise and vivid (and they remain so in the sparkling translation by Caroline Schimdt), yet the selectivity of her observations and the randomness of memory are constant themes.
Like the Byzantine mosaics the narrator’s father was obsessed with, Kinsky constructs a rich and complex world from thousands of brilliant details, further establishing her as one of the most fascinating contemporary writers in Germany.
Reviewed by Walter Schlect, Germanic Languages & Literatures; Comparative Literature; Linguistics (Interim); Romance Languages & Literatures (Interim) Librarian