Saturday, February 23, 2013

Accabadora by Michela Murgia

Formerly beautiful and at one time betrothed to a fallen soldier, Bonaria Urrai has long held covenant with the dead. Midwife to the dying, easing their suffering and sometimes ending it, she is revered and feared in equal measure as the village’s Accabadora. When Bonaria adopts Maria, the unloved fourth child of a widow, she tries to shield the girl from the truth about her role as an angel of mercy. Moved by the pleas of a young man crippled in an accident, she breaks her golden rule of familial consent, and in the recriminations that follow, Maria rejects her and flees Sardinia for Turin. Adrift in the big city, Maria strives as ever to find love and acceptance, but her efforts are overshadowed by the creeping knowledge of a debt unpaid, of a duty and destiny that must one day be hers.

This novel was a pure joy to read. It sweeps the reader into a unique time and setting, telling a powerful story. It is no surprise that it has won numerous prestigious literary awards, has been translated into numerous languages, and is an international bestseller.

The story is about a young Sardinian girl named Maria whose poverty-stricken mother sells her to a childless widow named Bonaria. Unbeknownst to Maria, Bonaria is an Accabadora; a woman summoned to mercifully end the lives of the severely ill, elderly, or dying at the family’s request and approval. 

An Accabadora

Dressed in black with their faces covered, Accabadoras secretly enter the room of the ill or dying and suffocate their patients with a pillow or bludgeon them to death with a wooden mallet or matuolo. 

Although highly respected for conducting merciful acts of euthanasia, the lives of these angels of death were lonely and isolated. Kept on the peripherals of society, they were dependent upon their neighbors for food and clothing as they could not be paid for their grisly work.  

As Maria grows to womanhood, she is oblivious of Bonaria’s role as an Accabadora. One day, a crippled young man begs for Bonaria to end his life. The family refuses to consent, but the young man’s pleas grow more desperate until he finally convinces Bonaria to perform her act of mercy, going against his family’s wishes. When Maria accidently discovers Bonaria’s abhorrent act, she flees her home and Sardina to Turin. After some time, however, she receives a message to return home to deal with Bonaria’s final request – one that will weigh heavily upon her and test her conscience.

This is a profound story of humanity in all its aspects – humble village life, what constitutes a mother’s love, and issues of life and death. The ancient setting of Sardinia weaves a mood throughout the story, bringing to life the culture and simplicity of life. From the start, this story grips the reader, challenging one’s values about life and death, euthanasia, and the strength of love. From beginning to end, this novel will move you, fill you with questions, and make you laugh and cry. It is a story that will linger long after the last page has been read. A must to read!

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