Snow White in the 20th Century

Original title: Biancaneve nel Novecento

Author: Oliva, Marilù

Publication Date:

January 2021

Original language and publisher

Italian | Solferino

Territories Handled

Netherlands, Scandinavia


Literary Fiction

Snow White in the 20th Century

Original title: Biancaneve nel Novecento

Author: Oliva, Marilù


I also wanted to console my mother, but I feared that, approaching her, she would address her pointed pin at me. I saw it firmly and gleaming: gripped with fatal wrath, as great as a knitting needle, facing me and her ghosts.

How long does evil last?

A hard and poetic novel that runs throughout the twentieth century and tells, through the eyes of two women, the hidden secrets of families, the female body, and the violence to which it has always been subjected. Above all, the Buchenwald concentration camp brothel: a subject seldom dealt with in the extensive literature on the Second World War.

Giovanni is a charming, generous, and failed man. Candi is a beautiful woman who exaggerates with foul language, alcohol, and love.

What about Bianca? She is their only daughter, who grows up in a messy apartment at the outskirts of Bologna, breathing a dense air of parental conflict and an inexplicable maternal hostility.

From an early age Bianca takes refuge in fairy tales, where mothers are stepmothers, and girls, in the end, always manage to save themselves in the woods. Over the years, the strange rift dividing her from her mother becomes a thread stretched over an abyss always ready to swallow her.

Bianca spends her first twenty years oscillating between school and love, between the tragedy that ends her childhood, and the passions—including books—that will save her during her adolescence.

In the nineties, heroin spreads through Bologna like a scourge. Bianca flirts with self-destruction: while her mother poisons herself with alcohol, Bianca cannot ignore the call of drugs.

Different in every other respect, why is it that they share only the subtle discomfort with which they face the world?

It’s a desire to cancel oneself that actually comes from far away, from a decades-old tragedy which nevertheless seems never to be extinguished. It started in the Sonderbau, the brothel in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

With a vibrant brush, steeped in the history of the twentieth century and sharpened by a profound sensitivity for human weakness and anguish, Marilù Oliva paints a pressing story which is also a reflection on what families do not say, about unhealed wounds that reopen, implacable, through the generations.

A lively and poetic novel giving voice to those repressed for a century.

Marketing Information

  • Initial print run: 10,000 copies
  • Nominated for the 2021 Premio Strega