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One of Elena Ferrante's best 40 books by female writers
When Maria, the fourth child of a widow, is adopted by the old and childless Bonaria Urrai, her life is instantly transformed - she finally has the love and affection she craves. But her new 'soul mother' is keeping something hidden from her, a secret life that is intimately bound-up with Sardinia's ancient traditions and customs. Midwife to the dying, easing their suffering and sometimes ending it, she is revered and feared in equal measure as the village's Accabadora.
Bonaria tries to shield the girl from the truth about her role as an angel of mercy, until, moved by the pleas of a young man crippled in an accident, she breaks her golden rule of familial consent. The consequences - for Bonaria, for Maria and for the whole village, are devastating - and cause a rift between the two women that can only be bridge by another death.
Translated from the Italian by Silvester Mazzarella
Set in 1950s Sardinia, Murgia's lovely English-language debut tells the story of Bonaria Urrai, caretaker of the dying, and the life she tries to give to Maria, the unwanted six-year-old daughter of a widow. In the parlance of the Mediterranean isle, Bonaria is known as the accabadora, a word drawn from the Spanish acabar, which means "to finish or complete"; Maria is a fill'e anima, a "soul-child... born twice," once "from the "poverty of one woman" and again in the care of another. Though Bonaria's role is to comfort those on the cusp of death, she sometimes with familial consent brings about the end for "those who can't bear to suffer anymore." Maria, unaware of her adoptive mother's sideline, takes up dressmaking and eventually attracts the attention of Andr a Bast u, son of local vintners. But when Andr a reveals to Maria that Bonaria killed his crippled brother, a shocked Maria flees to Turin to start another new life. Yet despite Bonaria's secrets, Maria cannot forget her kindness. A touching meditation on life and death and the power of love to bind, transcend, and let go.