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Harrowing novel about the hidden world of 'the Italian disease'

In his new novel When I return Italian writer Marco Balzano shows a hidden world: that of female migrants hired by affluent Westerners to look after their demented elderly, children and the household.

In Eastern Europe, there is a word for the burnout affecting millions of Eastern European domestic and care workers: 'the Italian disease'. Migration is often portrayed as something that affects only men, Balzano writes in his afterword, but almost a third of migrants are women. To take care of their children, millions of Filipino and Eastern European women work abroad, for instance in Italy. There, they are gladly hired to take care of needy elderly people or relieve two-income earners of child and household care.

Many of these badantes, who work their asses off, do not see their own children grow up and never return home. Those who do return after years of absence find a family torn apart where relationships are forever scarred and often destroyed.

Romanian family

Balzano portrays in his committed novel When I return Such a Romanian family from the perspective of the mother and her two children. To pay for a good education for her daughter Angelica and son Manuel and to renovate their house, Daniela leaves her children and husband Filip overnight to work in Italy.

Soon the family members alienate each other and hardly share any of their emotional lives. While Daniela has a rotten life and is tormented by exhaustion and guilt, her family is also deteriorating. Filip gets a job as a truck driver and leaves as well, Angelica moves into his room to study and then Manuel, already vulnerable to alcohol and blow, loses his great mainstay, grandpa Mihai, as well. Then a moped accident lands him in hospital.

For (the hope of) a better future, these women, their families and society as a whole are paying a high price: the destruction of social cohesion, the emptying and demise of villages, children more or less orphaned even if their parents are still alive: can't we all find a better solution to the problems underlying this phenomenon? But then we have to face those problems first.

In his novel, Balzano shows the harrowing story behind this hidden world. Stories like you rarely read in the media. Fortunately, there is literature.

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Marco Balzano, When I return (269 p.), translated from the Italian by Edwin Krijgsman, De Arbeiderspers, € 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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