One is reminded of Garcia-Marquez’s Hundred Years of Solitude, where the names also recur from one generation to the next, and whose style is similarly simple yet profound, honest and yet soothing.
Reviewed by Dylan Evans for The Orange Prize (Britain) 2001 shortlist
An intricately braided narrative about a place that will be, for most readers, at first foreign and then familiar. These stories about love and community are exceptionally vivid, even when they contain ghosts and traces of memory. Homestead is a book of marvels.
The fascinating stories in Rosina Lippi’s novel create a village across time and change by introducing a whole population of souls we would never otherwise meet–their losses and desires, their thwarted curiosity about the wider world. The women in this haunting book are deeply and uniquely of their place, which is rendered with care and precision, yet they speak (often wordlessly) of women’s longings and satisfactions everywhere.
In Rosenau, a small, fully imagined world in the heart of the Bregenz Forest, Rosina Lippi gives us not only a village and its life, whole, complex, and alive–she gives us our friends and neighbors and secrets. Her clear prose has the weight and tender history of old silver and the tang of stainless steel. There are a hundred truths in these twelve stories.
Shaped by Time, Place and Family: Fictions About Farthest Austria
The Washington Post – Washington, D.C.
Author: Carolyn See
Date: May 29, 1998
Start Page: B.02 Section: STYLE
HOMESTEAD By Rosina Lippi Delphinium Books. 210 pp. $21
Sometimes the best thing a novel can do is show us another world, a place we’ve never been and never will be, except in our imaginations. By her own account, Rosina Lippi stumbled upon such a world when she was doing a linguistics project in the Bregenz Forest, out in the boondocks of western Austria. She spent “many hours talking to women of all ages.” She writes in an author’s note: “While I was listening to their vowels, they were teaching me what it means to be a storyteller.”
These linked fictions, which progress over a period of 68 years from 1909 to 1977, are buttressed with semi-scholarly apparatus and paraphernalia — a list of words in this particular German dialect, an elaborate set of family trees that lay out three separate clans and how they are related to one another. We’re asked to grasp a very specific way of life, where primogeniture rules property values so that only an oldest brother inherits land, where a woman must marry to have a home of her own and the privilege of bearing children, where the raising of milch cows is the only industry and cheese the only product: “There is no place for a woman to hide her cheese,” one wife observes. “Our faults — impatience, laziness, greed, sloth — all come to light in the round disks of pale gold, in the cool damp dimness of the cheese cellar.” This observation is made in 1920, and 18 years later a desperate little slut leaves town to find people “who never gave cheese a thought except when they saw it on the table in front of them.” Thirty years after that, the town is still unchanged, with the same families and the same preoccupations, perhaps with another store or two as a concession to modernity. This is a place where land, tradition and the past rule like mountain kings.
These stories are about village women. There’s the sister, for instance, who’s not married, but falls in love with a deserter from the other side in the Great War. She has his baby — a “secret” that the baby, grown up, finally notices in a college course when she learns about Mendel’s laws; there’s no way her blue-eyed parents could have had a brown-eyed daughter. The story of her own identity opens up out of her mother’s long-ago transgression.
The two wars function here as they do in most ordinary people’s lives; there’s no sense of glory or elation or any particular clue about what’s going on in the larger world: Men leave and then they either return or don’t.
Sometimes they come back in bits and pieces; one of the most moving stories here is about a mother coming to terms with the dreadful maiming of her beautiful, most beloved son in World War I. Twenty years later, Nazi rule is felt most strongly when a car full of uniformed men comes to scoop up two “retarded” twins for extermination. Miraculously, after many years, one of these twins returns.
Obviously, these stories are about time and place, how these two ineffable elements stamp each one of us, no matter how individual we may think we are. They’re about family; where we’re placed in the lineup of brothers and sisters — whether we’re favored by our parents — has everything to do with the kind of life we’ll lead, whether we’re born in a city or an obscure Alpine hamlet. But the author addresses another whole question: how storytelling itself affects other people’s lives and our own. We all may be said to be living a first draft of our lives right now, in this exact, present moment. Five minutes from now the editing process will have already begun; are we good people, or are we bad?
Stories make characters: Three people in “Homestead” are pretty awful. They’re awful because they are, and because people remember how and why they are, and then tell about it. Grumpy Marie is so mean-tempered that it’s become part of her name. She’s a spinster storekeeper and her harsh life has put her in a permanent bad mood. The Wainwright, head of one of the clans, is terrible in many different ways, from his sly torturing of defenseless kids to public humiliation of an adulteress (the village puts her in stocks, for citizens to make fun of) to a last nasty, stingy, smarmy sin that would be unbelievable if you didn’t already know he’s capable of anything. And another woman, Mikatrin, is cruel simply because she is. Her sourness allows others to be sweet; if there weren’t these long-term awful people in any community, there might be no stage for large-hearted heroes and heroines.
Our identities are determined both by ourselves and others; I write from Los Angeles, where people come routinely to reinvent themselves: The frump becomes the siren, with the aid of a diet and some silicone. The luckless lad may still — with another kind of luck — become a movie idol. But in an isolated village where the past is paramount and hard work is everything, you can’t escape who you are. Your flaws are evident — right there in the cheese — and your sins are forever on the record. Whether they’re written down or not, they’ll live as long as there are people to tell the story.
This may be a hard book to find, but it’s worth the search. “Homestead” is beautifully and carefully written. It can be compared to Louise Erdrich’s “Love Medicine.” I also found myself thinking about “From Here to Eternity,” so rich is “Homestead” in evocative detail of a lost, unique world.
By Carolyn See, a writer whose reviews appear on Fridays in the Style section.