Gabriella Zalapì

French, Éditions Zoé, 2022

“There is a slight scent of inertia in the air.
She grabs the broom and sweeps the sand out of her house. It falls apart halfway through. She can’t be bothered to patch it up and puts the two pieces, handle and brush, in a corner. Their bedroom is where the sand manages to infiltrate best. Mysterious winds, under doors and window frames – where there is wear there is a way through. Mysterious matter, in constant motion, just like dust.”

“That night, she sleepwalks again in her nightdress. She walks barefoot onto the roof terrace and turns around slowly, her head and chest swaying under the handful of stars. Her arms spread out like wings. She goes back inside, croaking out a song that eventually wakes Vivian. He leads her gently back to bed.”

Since her teenage years, Mara has been captivated by a painting that hung in the lounge of her home, a social housing property. To her, Willibald, who purchased the painting in the 1920s, is just as captivating. When fleeing Vienna in 1938, The Sacrifice of Abraham, carefully folded in his suitcase, was all he took with him. The Jewish entrepreneur and collector rebuilt his life in Brazil, far from his family. While staying in Tuscany at the home of her mother, Antonia’s, Mara began deciphering Willibald’s letters, which she came across in an outbuilding. She studied the photos and fired questions at Antonia, ‘who knows but doesn’t know’.

In Willibald, Gabriella’s precise and pared-down writing depicts the man in intricate detail – a man whose family became the collateral damage of a life, that was as tragic as it was extraordinary. This intergenerational novel captures with remarkable insight the mixed blessing of blood ties. Once again we find Gabriella Zalapì’s abrasive yet poetic perspective in this, her second novel. 

Text by Éditions Zoé

Éditions Zoé
Translation rights
Laure Pécher, laure@astier-pecher.com
Publication date
September 2022


Gabriella Zalapì

Gabriella Zalapì is a visual artist with English, Italian and Swiss roots who lives in Paris. She trained at the Haute Ecole d’Art de Design in Geneva and draws inspiration from her own family history, combining photos, archives and mementos in an unsettling interplay between history and fiction. Her first novel, Antonia (Zoé, 2019), was awarded the Madame Figaro magazine’s Grand prix de l’héroïne prize as well as the Bibliomedia award.

Photo:  © Francesco Acerbis