Motherlands: In Search of Our Inherited Cities

Amaryllis Gacioppo

Motherlands: In Search of Our Inherited Cities
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Motherlands: In Search of Our Inherited Cities

Amaryllis Gacioppo

Our creation stories begin with the notion of expulsion from our ‘original’ home. We spend our lives struggling to return to the place we fit in, the body we belong in, the people that understand us, the life we were meant for. But the places we remember are ever-changing, and ever since we left, they continue to alter themselves, betraying the deal made when leaving.

Australian writer Amaryllis Gacioppo has been raised on stories of original homes, on the Palermo of her mother, the Benghazi of her grandmother and the Turin of her great-grandmother. But what does belonging mean when you’re not sure of where home is? Is the modern nation state defined by those who flourish there or by those who aren’t welcome? Is visiting the land of one’s ancestors a return, a chance to feel complete, or a fantasy?

Weaving memoir and cultural history through modern political history, examining notions of citizenship, statelessness, memory and identity and the very notion of home, Motherlands heralds the arrival of a major talent that opens one’s eyes to new ways of seeing.

Review

There is no word for our English-language notion of home in Italian; the closest is ‘casa’, but that has the more literal meaning as the physical place where one lives. Amaryllis Gacioppo’s parents are Italians from Sicily; they met in Australia and Amaryllis was born in Sydney, with the family later moving to northern New South Wales. Her occasional trips back to Palermo, to see her maternal grandmother, stuck in her heart. Palermo, Italy, felt like home: familiar and safe. In this fascinating book she tries to make sense of these feelings by navigating her own movements within Italy alongside those of her grandparents and great grandparents, tracing the cities in which they lived: Benghazi, Turin, Rome and Palermo.

Gacioppo looks at the history of those places and how her relatives lived and moved in them. She ponders what is her place in them as a child ‘of migrants who shares a past with one place and a future with another’. In the cities of Italy she sees another version of herself, one who cries every time she leaves Palermo afraid that she might not return.

The recent census shows that 29% of Australians were born overseas and 48% have a parent born overseas. For many of us, Gacioppo’s brilliant book will resonate; for all of us it will make us think about our idea of home.

Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings

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