Rombo by Esther Kinsky (Translated from German by Caroline Schmidt) - review by Damian Walsh

Damian Walsh

Moving Mountains



Fitzcarraldo Editions 232pp £12.99

‘Every deliverance into the next world’, Dante’s Purgatorio explains, ‘is accompanied by an earthquake in this world.’ For the Italian inhabitants of Friuli devastated by the 1976 earthquake that killed 990 and left 157,000 homeless, deliverance comes only through emigration and the slow anaesthetic of time. Esther Kinsky’s third novel traces ‘the rambling, varying, forever trembling stories about the earthquake’ through the fragmented voices of the region’s citizens. Gracefully translated by Caroline Schmidt, Rombo is ambitious in its aim of presenting the total ecosystem of an area: geology, gossip, flora and folktales rub up against each other in an accumulating series of vignettes. Each voice remains distinct, however, in Kinsky’s delicately insistent prose, which draws its reader into the confidence of the village community through artfully repeated anecdotes and rumours. The disaster is interpreted via long-lived folklore centred on local spirits like Dujak, Morá and, above all, Riba Faronika, the primal mermaid whose restless sleep produces earthquakes. The notion of tales ‘written into the landscape’ underpins a central preoccupation of Kinsky’s intimate and poised novel: what happens when a landscape loses its legibility? As once-familiar paths are torn up by the earthquake and new ways of navigating must be

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