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We Will Grow a Forest (Faremo foresta)

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Original Language: Italian | 180 pp. | January 2018

2 Seas represents: French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Nordic Rights.

Rights sold: Spain (Grijalbo, in a pre-empt)

Longlisted for the Premio Strega

LITERARY FICTION

“The title is wonderful and so is the content. Ilaria Bernardini has a way of talking about caring for plants as if she were discussing how to cherish your love for someone, and vice versa.” — Serena Dandini, Io Donna

“The most lifelike literary product to have appeared in Italy in years. Painful, moving, beautiful. ” — Teresa Ciabatti, Corriere della Sera

“You laugh in a slightly bitter and slightly sweet way, which is truly moving.” — Annalena Benini, il Foglio

“A forest that grows under an incessant gentle rainfall of words which Ilaria sows skilfully, making it immense, full and green.” — Federica Bosco, Tuttolibri, La Stampa

“Through a powerful botanical metaphor and the happy device of burying the void by ‘creating a forest’, Ilaria Bernardini fashions a story which is also a hymn to life.” — Ilaria Zaffino, Robinson

“Its most striking feature is a willingness to use the narrative medium to tell the whole truth about oneself.” — Valentina della Seta, il Venerdì

“A deeply intimate, enchanted novel.” — Marta Cervino, Marieclaire

“A manual on how not to be afraid.” — Victoria Cabello, Grazia

“More than a beautiful metaphor, a set of instructions for a potential revolution that is really achievable. Read it and do it for yourself, in your life and in your home.” — Laura Piccinini, D di Repubblica

The enchanting story of two women who overcame fear and pain by planting together an urban forest. A universal recipe for when life feels barren. A botanical tale about closeness and care.

It all begins in Milan on the day of the disaster. Anna is pining over the end of her marriage: she and the father of Nico, their four-year-old son, have decided to split up. On that day in her mother’s art gallery, Anna meets Maria, a girl who works there but whom she doesn’t know well. As they talk, Maria starts to feel ill, very ill. Anna holds her hand, watches her collapse. She calls for help. Only after the alarm, the ambulance, and the phone calls, does it become clear that Maria has had a brain stroke, before Anna’s very eyes.

There follows a long dry summer of convalescence for the one and uncertainty and sense of guilt for the other. By fall Maria recovers and Anna moves into her new home with her son. How do you learn how to emerge again after months in a hospital and discovering how close at hand death is? How do you tell a four-year-old child that his mummy and daddy don’t love each other anymore? How can Maria start living again and Anna start feeling again? Her mother’s gallery is closing, she and her ex-husband have stopped looking each other in the eye, Maria too is left by her partner, jellyfish invade the seas, doomsayers predict that the world will end on New Year’s Day. Even the plants on the terrace of Anna and Nico’s new flat seem dead: all around the two women there is nothing but drought, sadness and gloom, as far as the eye can see.

One day, after another chance meeting, Anna and Maria start tending to Anna’s terrace together. While Maria, who is an expert gardener, removes the dry vegetation, sows new seeds and re-pots plants, Anna cooks her a meal. And day after day, season after season, the two women begin to know each other, cure each other’s loneliness, and open up to new encounters and possibilities. The plants too, start to come back to life. Actually, they were really never gone.

Gradually the mint becomes green and strong (like Nico, who learns how to cross the park between his parents’ homes and to feed the blackbird), the lemon and fig trees bear fruit, the sunflowers grow into tall surprises, the oleander, strawberry tree and wysteria thicken – attracting birds and butterflies. Life spreads everywhere.

And just like the terrace, this story becomes a forest, as unruly and wild as Anna’s new eccentric family. The forest is now so large that it extends to London, where Anna’s new lover lives and where she begins to consult a quirky, sexy fortune-teller for help in conquering writer’s block. It is her conversation with the fortune-teller – which often emerges among the pages with poetic flights and hints of the absurd – that foments the narrative.

Ilaria Bernardini has drawn on a small-scale private experience common to many – illness, the end of a marriage, a child who needs protecting from the transience of life – to depict a powerful, invigorating universe, in which words sprout like branches and leaves. Thus every event becomes connection and meaning: the whole of botany as an existential metaphor.

With Faremo Foresta we begin a celebration of care and hands in the soil, of attention and presence. We launch a hymn to a life to be shared, passed on, to help ourselves and the others. This book is more than a story: it is an empathic vision of the world, a precious reading for growing forests in drought.

Ilaria Bernardini was born in Milan. She writes screenplays (most recently, In Treatment). She was the scriptwriter for the programme Very Victoria on MTV and Victor Victoria on La7. She invented the programmes Ginnaste-vite parallele and Ballerini (MTV). She has written for Ciak, tutto Musica, Linus, Rolling Stone, Amica, and GQ. She published Non è niente (Baldini & Castoldi) in 2005 and the short-story collection La fine dell’amore (ISBN) in 2006. These were followed in 2008 by I Supereroi (Bompiani), and in 2011 by Corpo Libero (Feltrinelli), the film rights to which were bought by Indigo Film (The great beauty,). In 2013 she published Domenica, again with Feltrinelli. In 2015, Hop! Edizioni issued her graphic novel based on La fine dell’amore and Indiana published her short-story collection L’inizio di tutte le cose. She has just finished writing her first novel in English, The Portrait, which will be a saga in three volumes.