‘Bloodlines’ by Marcello Fois and translated from the Italian by Silvester Mazzarella tells the story of the Chironi family during the early twentieth century in Sardinia. Michele Angelo Chironi, a blacksmith and Mercede Lai are both orphans who marry seven months after they first meet at a church in 1889. While the early years of their marriage are happy ones, their lives are plagued with misfortune after the turn of the century.
The novel is divided into three parts: Paradise (1889-1900), Hell (1901-1942) and Purgatory (1943). Although it covers both world wars and the rise of fascism, the tumultuous historical events stay in the background with the family saga remaining at the heart of the story. Epic in scope – but not so much in length at less than three hundred pages – ‘Bloodlines’ is more traditional in style compared with the quirkier contemporary novels on this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist like ‘The Giraffe’s Neck‘ but the atmosphere on the island is very similar to the sense of isolation conveyed in ‘In the Beginning Was the Sea‘. While I found the secondary plotline tracing the Chironi name back to the Spanish Inquisition somewhat less compelling, the main narrative is very consistent.
Stu, another member of this year’s IFFP shadow jury, has described the writing in ‘Bloodlines’ as like Gabriel Garcia Márquez but without the magical realism. I think this is a very accurate description. Like Márquez’s work, the prose is very rich and the story has a distinctive Sardinian setting which is very different from the typical tourist view of Italy. Fortunately, the family tree in ‘Bloodlines’ is mostly confined to just two generations of the Chironi family. Having no other family themselves, Michele and Mercede are said to be “the fruit of outcasts… they had no inheritance to protect and not even a story to tell; they were at the beginning of everything” (pp. 24-25). Consequently, the saga is much easier to follow than the sprawling family tree in ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ which I didn’t really get on with at all.
I’m now half way through reading the IFFP longlist and this is yet another book I would be happy to see on the shortlist. ‘Bloodlines’ is a timeless classic which I think is likely to be a popular choice and one that lingers on the mind long after finishing the last page.