(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Maradagal is a South American country based upon Carlo Emilio Gadda’s native Lombardy, specifically the Brianza region north of Milan. As Acquainted with Grief begins, Maradagal has recently ended a war with neighboring Parapagal, and both countries are experiencing modest economic recoveries. Gonzalo Pirobutirro de Eltino, a middle-aged engineer and writer,lives with his widowed seventy-three-year-old mother, Senora Pirobutirro, in their decaying villa outside the city of Pastrufazio. He has summoned the family doctor to the villa to have a checkup. Most of the first part of the novel is devoted to Doctor Higueroa’s thoughts about Gonzalo’s reputation in town as a stingy, temperamental misanthrope who is cruel to his ailing mother. This part also includes the physician’s conversations with the servant, Battistina, and with Gonzalo himself.

Gonzalo is tormented by what he imagines is his mother’s lack of affection for him; by her perpetual mourning for his brother, who was killed in the war with Parapagal; and by his late father’s having squandered most of the family’s money on their elaborate villa. Gonzalo believes that he suffered as a child because of his father’s excessive expenditures, and he continues to suffer by having to pay taxes on the estate. (All these elements of Gadda’s story are autobiographical.) Gonzalo is also disgruntled by his mother’s illusion that the family is still well-to-do and by her paternalistic...

(The entire section is 420 words.)