There is a hint of Russia in Alessandra Jatta’s book Foglie sparse [Scattered Leaves], which comes from the distant events in the novel that can be sensed today too. The novel recounts and recalls wars, revolutions, oppressions and privileges of a land and time long gone.
The book is the story of a family, or rather, of the three women of a family belonging to the Russian aristocracy. The story is of a time before the Lenin and the Bolshevik revolution, of the “land to the peasants”, of the ousting of the Tsar, and the exodus of the great nobility.
The story recounts an escape that begins in August 1917, a few months before the seizure of the Winter Palace. The protagonist is Olga Pavlovna, who, in her large country villa where she lives in sheltered and secure opulence, realises that an era is over and so tries to save her family and children. Her world collapses and another, which does not belong to her, occupies ever larger spaces.
The journey of the great-grandmother and her five children, including the author's grandmother, becomes an extraordinary opportunity to recount a world that is about to be submerged in rubble. The Olsufiev family, the relationships and entanglements with the Romanovs, the tsar’s dynasty, the fascinating life of privilege, wealth, culture and tradition but, above all, the determination of the women of the family to save what remains of an ancient world that is now submerged by other priorities, other principles, and other values.
The author tells the tale of this glittering and seemingly unchangeable world to the five children through the voices of the mother and the two nannies. The story unfolds during a long journey, which must bring them closer to their father, which intrigues and overwhelms the reader precisely because it is so distant, unrepeatable, and definitively lost. Olga Pavlovna is aware of this, which is why in the tragedy that overwhelms her she remains steadfast in defending her children, her culture, and her memories, which she cannot give up.
In one way or another, she rescues them, and one day she will recount the memories of the past that was in her notebook. These notes, she writes, are “carried at the mercy of the wind, lifted by the storm [...] Winter leaves, torn from the beautiful once so strong tree. All withered, ready to fall with the Great Country”.
We read them with the respect and curiosity that one owes to the memories of a past history and to the losers who were protagonists of that history, but above all to a feminine force that, wherever it is placed, does not accept to remain hidden.
by Ritanna Armeni