Viola Ardone in ET about “The unruly heart of Oliva Denaro” 2024-03-23 13:05:13

Interview with Iuli Tsakalou

Only if you have an unbreakable heart will you be untouched by this superbly written coming-of-age novel based on a true story.

Author Viola Ardone transliterates her name as Oliva Denaro and writes her story based on the true story of Franca Viola, the Italian woman who in the 1960s refused a “reparation marriage” (matrimonio ripatore) with her rapist, according to customary law, according to which a woman lost her honor if she refused to marry the man to whom she had lost her virginity. Viola is believed to be the first Italian woman to publicly deny this fate, and her family has sued her rapist, who abducted her for more than a week and raped her repeatedly. Viola became a symbol of emancipation of the women of southern Italy and beyond.

The novel your “Her unruly heart Oliva Denaro» (published by Pataki) is based on a true story. What are the challenges of writing a coming-of-age novel in an ever-changing world? What is the trigger?

I wrote Oliva Denaro because I wanted to reflect on the state of women today, but first of all I had to take a step back. I remembered that up until 40 years ago in Italy there was a law called “matrimonio riparatore” where it allowed a man who raped a woman not to face criminal consequences if after the rape he offered to marry her! I thought that the women’s struggles led us in a short period of time to make tremendous progress in many areas in terms of our rights. Unfortunately, however, the mentality remained the same, unchanged.

– What forces does your heroine Olivia Nenaro awaken and activate through her refusal to follow the customary law of the 1960s?

The story is about Oliva, a 15-year-old girl living in Sicily in the early 1960s. She is not a rebel, she has no political conscience, she does not want to overturn the rules her mother taught her. But when a man kidnaps her and rapes her to marry her (despite her refusal), she decides to say no and report the violence she suffered! And she does it in a simple way, just to keep her dignity. After all, many revolutions started with a small no, which then snowballed.

This is a book about desire, about the guilt that comes with desire, about consent, and about the discovery of the beauty of being a woman by a girl who wishes she had been born a man, like her brother, to live a freer life.

Excerpt from the book

[Η κοπέλα είναι μια στάμνα, όποιος τη σπάει την παίρνει, έτσι λέει η μάνα μου. Θα ήμουν πραγματικά ευτυχισμένη αν γεννιόμουν αγόρι, όπως ο Κοζιμίνο, αλλά όταν μ’ έκαναν κανείς δε με ρώτησε. Ήμασταν μαζί στην κοιλιά της μάνας μας και ήμασταν ίδιοι, γεννηθήκαμε όμως κι αρχίσαμε να είμαστε διαφορετικοί: Εγώ με ροζ φανελάκι και αυτός με γαλάζιο, εγώ με πάνινη κούκλα και αυτός με ξύλινο σπαθί, εγώ με λουλουδάτο φορμάκι κι αυτός με ριγέ…]

-He will manage to find her place in a conservative and purely patriarchal world, a world of deep hypocrisy, where the fate of women was held in their hands by men?

It wasn’t easy being a woman in the 60s. Girls were subject to the authority of their fathers, brothers and then their husbands, they had no freedom, they could rarely study and very rarely work. They were to arrive at the wedding as virgins and then devote themselves to their families.

Their behaviors were judged by society, especially in Southern Italy, which was always more traditional. Common morality wanted the woman to be a mother and a wife and she had to bear her husband’s betrayals in silence.

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The law only punished female adultery and provided for a very low penalty for a man who would kill his wife for corresponding treason.

Today things have changed: there are no longer discriminatory laws and women can access any job. Unfortunately, however, there are still many problems: violence against women, femicide (three women are killed every month by their partners or ex-partners), unequal pay and above all the fact that even today in Italy women have to choose between motherhood and work. as if they were two separate and alternate careers. Reconciling these two situations is still very difficult for many women.

-Here it strikes me that her father is standing next to her in her problem! In the midst of words, thoughts, where do you want to lead the reader?

Oliva’s father supports his daughter’s decision and accompanies her to report her rapist. He is a man capable of listening and supporting his daughter, even when he fears that he might be wrong. I believe he is a positive example of non-toxic arsenic.

– Will he be able to prove that the one who causes the evil and not the one who suffers it is guilty?

In my opinion this is a stereotype that becomes a noose around our necks.

Unfortunately Oliva cannot prove during the trial that he is not guilty. Justice at that time worked like this: it was difficult for a woman to prove that she had suffered violence. And unfortunately this happens often, I agree. Nowadays women have to prove their “innocence” during the trial, and are still subjected to embarrassing and humiliating questions.

-When do you think it will be a miracle to see face to face that the woman has the right to self-determination of her body and a share in personal freedom, refusing violence, social divisions, the beast behind the closed doors of the house?

I am convinced that we will succeed, it will not be easy or quick, but we will succeed. On the other hand, the struggle for women’s rights is very recent compared to the abuses they suffered centuries ago!

I believe it is above all a cultural battle:

Breaking down gender stereotypes is perhaps even more difficult than changing laws.

-Finally, Mrs. Ardonne, isn’t the woman fragile? or frail is he who is exposed to injustice?

We are all fragile, each in our own way. But from a social point of view, the fragile are the people who have no rights. There is a personal fragility and a political fragility.

We can fight against this, all of us together: men and women.

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