Queen of Flowers and Pearls by Gabriella Ghermandi - Book Review

In 2015, Gabriella Ghermandi came to Ireland for a "narrative performance" of her work at Trinity College on Thursday, 29th October at 5.00 pm in the Douglas Hyde Gallery, in Clonskeagh on the 30th and for the Irish launch of her novel Queen of Flowers and Pearls at Hodges Figgis, 56-58 Dawson St, Dublin 2 on Halloween afternoon (Saturday 31st) at 2pm.

The debut novel from an Italian-Ethiopian performance artist, singer and writer ticks an awful lot of boxes. Drawing on the intercultural aspects of her own heritage, Gabriella Ghermandi ought to be any literary agent's dream signing.

Ghermandi during her last visit to Dublin in 2013.
The writing is qualitatively superb, the novel rich in story, description and detail. The framing narrative is provided by Mahlet, who - at the novel's outset - retrospectively details her childhood. Like Hosseini's Amir in The Kite Runner - a novel similarly dualistic in cultural terms - the young protagonist is a burgeoning storyteller, living near Addis Ababa (rather than Hosseini's Kabul).

Unlike Hosseini's novel, this work is not burdened by the self-absorption or outraged moralising of its central character. Introspection and self-awareness are encouraged here - through the advice of a religious leader - only so that the heroine can allow others - indeed, her 'Other', to subvert its conventional meaning - to better understand her. Such an attitude is contrasted, through this same mouthpiece, with the
selfishness of the colonialists of Ethiopia's recent past. It's a cogent criticism the reader doesn't have to confine to Italy, applicable to the self-interest prevalent in Western culture at large.

The novel, while never preachy, has many such didactic elements rendered abstract while retaining their educational impact, through fables or biographical detail of some of those elderly characters who insist to Mahlet that she will be the teller of their tales. Echoing the thinking of many a philosopher of recent times, as Mahlet tells us at the novel's end, they are our stories now too.

Many thanks to Rob O'Connor at Rocshot Photography for the above pic!