When Mussolini came into power, there was a strong emphasis on Italy and Italian language. South Tirol was now called Alto Adige, the names of the places were changed to be more Italian and speaking German was forbidden.
When Italy and Germany became allies just before WWII, many inhabitants wanted to leave the region and move to Germany. And when the war ended, some of them came back, but nobody ever talked about why people left or what the reasons were for staying behind.
During the fifties and sixties, the region of Alto Adige felt discriminated and wanted more rights. They felt the Italian state should acknowledge the German language and their different culture. Just like in many other regions in Europe at that time, there were groups who thought that violence was the way to accomplish this. Of course the state responded with violence and this lasted several years.
It is against this background that Francesca Melandri's book is set. This is her debut novel and she wrote two other books since then. She is very good at using a piece of Italian history that is not that well known, and use it for her story.
In this story, Eva is the daughter of Gerda. Gerda's family is firmly rooted in the Alto Adige region and has experienced many of the situations first hand. Gerda was a beautiful young lady when she became a kitchenmaid in one of the large hotels and she works herself up to being a chef. This was not easy, since she was also pregnant without being married. (this was in the sixties)
Later she gets into a relationship with Vito, a police officer from the south who is stationed in Alto Adige, but the political situation is not right for this kind of match and Gerda breaks it off.
Now, Eva is a grown woman, and she gets a message from Vito, who is now an old man on his deathbed. Eva takes the train and journeys through the whole of Italy to Calabria, to see the man who was closest to a father than any other man.
The book alternates the story of Eva in the train and the story of her family and everything that happened.
I like how Francesca Melandri always puts her characters first, and although there is a lot of explaination about the (political) situation and the historical background, this is necessary for the understanding of the story.
It is fascinating to see what happened, and I must confess I did not know much about this. Eva sleeps is a well written book with a beautiful story about a fascinating part of Italian history. The only thing I did not like as much was the ending, as it felt a bit rushed. And I would have liked to know more about Vito, since he was by far the most sympathetic character in the book!
Original Italian title: Eva dorme
Published in 2016