If the “spark” that saves us appears in the darkness. Nadia Terranova's latest book


By John

The sparks pass in our lives. When we don't expect it, perhaps, and coming out from where we don't think it's possible. And their little light perhaps illuminates our dark moment. Sometimes books are just little sparks that console us and make us smile: because every book, every good book, is a spark of a chain of light, a gesture of mutual care – starting from the pact between writer and reader -, a small act of love that we can keep with us forever, as if it had been written especially for us (it is one of the superpowers of writing, and we are grateful for it). All this, and much more, emanates with irrepressible grace from «Scintilla» (Mondadori), the latest novel by the “Stretto” writer from Messina Nadia Terranova.

A novel “for children”, in the sense that it is able to address the most enchanted and fertile part of our imagination, whatever age we are: the magical illustrations by Mariachiara Di Giorgio, an award-winning artist, are a narrative within a narrative, whose fantastic power expands, going far beyond a simple “illustration of the text”. On the other hand, Terranova has always been in the top five at Strega 2019 with «Addio ghosts» and whose latest novel is «Trema la notte» (both Einaudi), about the 1908 earthquake on the Strait – is also a formidable children's author: « The secret” (Mondadori), illustrated by Mara Cerri, won the Strega Boys and Girls Prize and the Andersen Prize in 2022, and his first book, “Bruno, the boy who learned to fly” (Orecchio Acerbo, 2012), it has become a little classic. And just yesterday the author held her Lectio in Florence as winner of the Ceppo Prize for childhood and adolescence. The title? «Children see things that others don't see». Precisely.

Nadia Terranova believes in the undisputed power of narration, which is capable of modifying space and time, of finding secret passages between ages, worlds and souls (as the author says, in children's literature everything is just a little more difficult, since it is intended for very demanding readers…). This is demonstrated, once again, by the delicate story of the little girl Scintilla, a bizarre creature with red hair and a full moon face who, on a somewhat sad day for the Sicilian child Antonio, rains down the old fireplace of the house. We are in an ancient and current Sicilyin the imaginary (but it would be better to say imagined) city of Panormo, a city of the heat that oppresses the oleanders and vegetable gardens, of the fires that threaten the houses, of the sea that shines between the rocks: the places (the Campacavallo beach, the Bottanuova forest), starting from the names, they are all real and transfigured together, recognizable and fantastic, in the dreamy yet precise style of Terranova writing.

Antonio's mother, Alice, is a kind of activist who fights to defend nature threatened by men, and in fact opposes the construction of a horrible and useless bridge that would deface a sacred place (does it remind you of something? I hope yes), and this takes her on a mission away from her son, who suffers from her absence: with delicacy and wisdom, the author focuses on that small, great pain of the absence of those we love, and the importance, for the construction of our soul, of the ways we invent to take care of ourselves and others. Antonio will take care of that strange sparkling little girl, and then of the funny dog ​​Acero, just as his father takes care of himand gestures of restorative love (cooking, laughing together, sharing a bizarre, untranslatable family lexicon) keep the family together, who are joined for a holiday by the aunt who looks like Liz Taylor and the almost-cousin Anthony, an Antonio Welshman who carries other wounds, the echoes of other absences, and he too will find sparks of that care that consoles and repairs.

It is inventive and joyful prose, even when it deals with shadows, supported by a great love for the word, reinvented with the same joy as the children who discover it. And so we find «carcarazze» and «vercingetorigi», «agapanti» and… «scintidduzze». Because to invent is to resist pain and fear, and improve the world. Nadia Terranova, whether she deals with the cataclysm of 1908, with a black cat living in the dark times of the Holy Inquisition or with a sad child in a fiery Panormic summer, always reinvents the happy ending, building complex and delicate feelings, showing his characters the infinite ways out and resistance to pain, the indefatigability of love and relationships as the main tool of every narrative. Of every construction of the future.

Absence, wound, care, on the other hand, are also important themes in his “adult” novels. «He couldn't wait for Alice to return, but she also didn't want the new balance to be completely upset. After all, she was the one who left, and dad was committed to building an entire world around that chasm”: as had happened to Ida, the protagonist of the beautiful “Goodbye Ghosts”. Building those worlds on the chasms is our task, and it's better if sparkling books like this help us.