Matilde Waltzing. Elise Valmorbida. Allen & Unwin, RRP: $16.95
Reviewed by Jane Howard
14 December 1997
There have been countless books on the migrant experience, but few recall this rite of passage with such wit and daring.
Matilde Waltzing, Elise Valmorbida’s debut novel, is an entertaining tale of Matilde Manin, a young woman catapulted from her old world in Villafranca, northern Italy, to a strange new world in Australia.
Set against a backdrop of depression, the rise of fascism and war, this highly readable saga traces the life of Matilde and transposes this against the bizarre and tortuous life of St Barbara, whose feet and tongue were severed.
Part of the book’s charm is its disarming and bold narrative style.
Storytellers include an impish and hilarious Scottish terrier whose cameo mirrors the map of Australia and Remo, the mythical co-founder of Rome.
Valmorbida makes us confront the enormity of this migrant’s journey and the ironies of the Australian dream.
We follow Matilde’s brief and gore-filled education, her marriage to Piero (this despite the fact she was deemed “like the breast of a nun – not for touching”) and her new life in Melbourne.
Matilde is a wilful and likeable heroine – not a weak and meek Italian woman her Australian neighbors expect.
Verdict: Involving read. You’ll enjoy waltzing this Matilde.