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Fausta Cialente: Le quattro ragazze Wieselberger [The Four Wieselberger Girls]

Cialente’s best-known novel is an autobiographical novel of a family but also of an epoch. The four eponymous Wieselberger girls – Adele, Alice, Alba and Elsa – are the daughters of a music-loving patriarch of Trieste. The first part of the novel more or less recounts their history while the remaining parts are the story as told by Elsa’s daughter, clearly based on Cialente herself. Of the four women, Adele – the beautiful one – dies of a mysterious disease when still relatively young, shortly before her mother dies; Alice and Elsa both marry and Alba remains single. Alice is the first to marry and she marries a successful Jewish businessman who soon turns out to be a philanderer. Elsa’s marriage is equally unsuccessful. She marries a military man, who is moved round Italy and who is also a philanderer. They have two children – the narrator and her brother Renato. The father does not take orders well and eventually leaves the army, while Elsa, who had had a promising career as an opera singer before her marriage, returns to music, as a teacher, while the father tries various unsuccessful speculations. The couple eventually separates.

But while being a sympathetic portrait of a family with its travails – Renato and a favourite cousin are killed in World War I – it is also a sympathetic portrait of Trieste and its travails. Trieste remains part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when Italy gains its independence and the Wieselberger family is fiercely irredentist. Much of the story concerns the narrator’s love for Trieste, even from a distance, as well the struggles of the Triestian irredentist movement to have Trieste return to Italy which, of course, it does, after World War I. This is a gentle novel, with none of the modernist techniques being tried by her contemporaries, which may explain why it has not been translated into English, but nevertheless thoroughly enjoyable

Publishing history

First published by Mondadori in 1976
No English translation