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Marina Jarre: a woman and writer who was always just out of step

Lack of roots and parental love marks a person for life, Marina Jarre shows in her autobiography Distant fathers.

Well-earned place in literature

Why is Marina Jarre not considered one of the great writers of post-war Italy, except by some connoisseurs? That is what fellow writer Marta Barone wonders in the foreword to Jarre's autobiography Distant fathers, who is keen to give her former city colleague (they both lived in Turin) back her well-earned place in Italian literature. Jarre herself gave the explanation, who died in 2016, that what she wrote never seemed to fit the times.

Marina Jarre, a remarkable writer and personality ©ADP Photo Panato

That is also the picture that emerges from Distant fathers: Jarre was someone who, unintentionally, was always just out of step. Equipped with a keen analytical insight into human behaviour, but also with an inability to understand social rules and codes, Jarre always said and did exactly the wrong thing. Even as a child, she was someone who could never get it right in the eyes of others, especially those of her mother.

Jarre's autobiography, one of her most important books according to Barone, is an attempt to reconstruct her past and come to grips with her complex origins and identity.

She was born in Riga as the eldest daughter of a Latvian Jewish man and an Italian Protestant woman with French-speaking grandparents. When her parents divorce, their mother sends Marina and her sister Sisi to live with their Italian grandparents in Torre Pellice, southwest of Turin. In a week, the then 10-year-old Marina changes countries, languages and families. Her mother initially comes to Italy only during the holidays; her father is murdered in 1941.

Like a spider in a web

Probing but meticulous, Jarre writes a fascinating personal account full of universal themes of family ties, time, memory and identity. Above all, it is a harrowing portrait of difficult mother-daughter relationships.

Marina's mother cannot accept her eldest daughter; while Sisi is constantly praised to the skies, Marina is called a coward and a liar, and her mother widely measures Marina's bad qualities and weak character in front of anyone who will listen. That she is good with numbers and can arrowily multiply 2340 by 2500 is not seen as merit.

So Marina grows up to be a girl who constantly looks back so that, should she be left somewhere, she can find her own way home again. A woman who, even as an adult, still craves her mother's appreciation and does not know what to do with the seething anger that constant rejection and humiliation evokes in her.

Like a spider, she weaves a protective web around herself: 'I have to entrust as little of myself as possible to the others, who try to destroy me piece by piece.'

Only in her imagination and literature does this 'lonely untouchable' find a safe home.

Tragic though it was, fortunately she was able to write very beautifully about it.

Good to know Good to know

Marina Jarre, Distant fathers. Translated by Philip Supèr. Wereldbibliotheek, 224 p., €22.99


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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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