Dandelions by Thea Lenarduzzi — family roots

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“Migrants are a social bomb that is in danger of exploding,” said Silvio Berlusconi in 2018. Since then, right-wing populism has cemented its foothold in Europe and, after the success of the Swedish far right, Giorgia Meloni won victory in the recent Italian legislative elections. The country’s first female prime minister will lead a right-wing coalition including the Brothers of Italy, her own post-fascist party, which has quintupled its share since 2018, as well as Matteo Salvini’s Anti-Immigrant League and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Into this charged political climate comes the shrewd debut of Thea Lenarduzzi dandelions, in which the titular weed symbolizes migrants: tenacious, ubiquitous, marginalized. Family memories and social history with echoes of the autobiographical novel by Natalia Ginzburg Family lexiconwhich explores the evocative power of shared language and stories, dandelions traces four generations of migration between Italy and England. It sensitively examines the experience through the lens of Italians arriving in 1950s Britain, Britons emigrating to 1980s Italy and Lenarduzzi’s own move to England in 2004 – although it is much more reserved about the third.

Lenarduzzi grew up in Italy, his English mother and Italian father having moved there from London in 1981, during the anni di piombo (Years of Lead), a period of far-left and far-right political terrorism spanning the late 1960s through the late 1980s. To write dandelions, she interviewed her Italian grandmother Dirce, a seamstress based in the northeastern industrial town of Maniago. What emerges is a first-person account of a working-class family caught between cultures and marked by untimely loss, mediated by Lenarduzzi, haunted by questions about the politics of their ancestors. If her great-grandfather Angelo was a fascist, she wonders, “would I still want to tell his story and tie it so closely to mine?”

Her grandmother’s childhood was marred by Angelo’s sudden death in 1935, aged 33, two months after she moved her family to England. At home, Mussolini was waging war on the Great Depression, but opportunity lured London-born Angelo to Manchester. Four months after his death, nine-year-old Dirce, his mother and brother returned to Maniago, avoiding the hostility to “enemy aliens” that would plague Italians in Britain after Italy entered the Second World War in 1940.

In 1950, before the Marshall Plan ignited post-war Italy economic miracle, Dirce, 24, felt his father calling him to Sheffield, his burial place. She moved from Maniago to this ‘promised land’ with her mother, son and husband Leonardo, a skilled foreign worker of the sort courted by Italy’s official Labor Ministry program, which aimed to boost the industrial workforce British. She only reluctantly returned to Maniago in 1971, when Leo’s heart sank after years of laying terrazzo floors. England felt like home to Dirce from the age of nine. “But Italy was also my home. Always both.

As if scattering dandelion seeds, Lenarduzzi writes discursively in precise, metaphorical prose, layering family mythology with compelling political, economic, and social context. This includes the lives of women such as Liala, the “Italian Barbara Cartland”, and Giuseppina Raimondi, whose marriage to Giuseppe Garibaldi lasted less than an hour, before his alleged infidelity prompted the groom to launch a smear campaign. against her.

At a pivotal moment when “but Mussolini also did good things” is whispered across Italy, Lenarduzzi’s account of his legacy highlights how history reverberates in the present. His timely investigation of Italian identity and fascist heritage sheds light on the roots of nationalism around the world.

dandelions by Théa Lenarduzzi, Fitzcarraldo Editions €14.99, 288pages

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