Daria Bignardi was born in 1961 in Ferrara, and spent her childhood and adolescent years in the surrounding Emilia Romagna. In 1984 she moved to Milan, where she embarked on a successful career in journalism and the media, writing for magazines and newspapers such as Panorama, La Stampa, Anna, Donna, and Vanity Fair. Additionally she presented numerous talk and reality shows (Il grande fratello, Invasioni barbariche, and L’era glaciale) for major networks Mediaset, La7, and RAI.
In 2009 she published her first novel, Non vi lascerò orfani (I Will Not Leave You Orphans), which won several literary prizes: the Rapallo Carige Prize for a Woman Writer, the Elsa Morante Prize for Prose Fiction, and the Premio del Libraio, conferred by the city of Padua. Begun shortly after her mother’s death as an article for Vanity Fair, Non vi lascerò orfani is an autobiographical, daughter-centered narrative that examines Bignardi’s family history and underscores its peculiarities. Influenced by Natalia Ginzburg’s Lessico famigliare (1963, Family Sayings), Bignardi shares Ginzburg's interest in the idiosyncrasies of household turns-of-phrase. Her memories are steeped in language, and in the peculiarities that characterized her parents’ speech patterns. Deriving its title from a tombstone inscription taken from St John’s Gospel, this autobiographical narrative takes as its point of departure the loss of her father, whom she visited on the last night of his life, and of her mother, with whom she always had a stormy relationship. Bignardi depicts her family with a colloquial and nostalgic tone: her mother emerges as an overzealous elementary school teacher always worried about her family’s well-being; her father, a representative for an animal food company, comes across as a jovial, laid-back lover of nature. In the background is her extended family circle, which includes a heterogeneous group of characters with very different political and religious affiliations. Regardless of their striking ideological differences, this gallery of ancestors is brought to life by the narrator’s generally affectionate and forgiving retrospection. Bignardi’s family, with its genealogy of saints and sinners, is unique in its cohesion, its ability to preserve family ties with a bond of love that transcends generational tensions.
Family dynamics also play an important role in Bignardi’s second book, Un karma pesante (A Heavy Karma), a first-person narrative that chronicles the life of a successful film director, Emilia Viola. In the novel, the protagonist’s sudden illness leads her to meditate on her existence: an impulsive woman who has always embraced new challenges, she leads a fast-paced existence until she suffers a panic attack that reveals her extreme exhaustion. Forced to slow down and reflect, Emilia looks back at her stormy life in a series of disconnected flashbacks that reconstruct her professional career and her marriage, her life as both film director and mother of two daughters. Compared to Non vi lascerò orfani, this fictional autobiography is imbued with anxiety, as if some of the personality traits of the author’s mother had been transmitted to this paper daughter. Some common traits are evident between these two books. Apart from the intimate self-narration, both women are characterized by a strong connection with their families of origin. While in her autobiography Bignardi emphasizes the ties of loyalty that united all family members despite the difficult daughter-mother bond, her novel acquires more dramatic tones and a more complex narrative structure. Health problems and difficult family relationships mark the existence of a woman whose karma, as her doctor proclaims, is deemed to be particularly heavy.
Set in contemporary Italy, this novel articulates the search for balance by a woman struggling to find herself in the midst of conflicting professional and personal responsibilities. As in the case of many novels by contemporary women writers across the world, the protagonist is on the verge of yielding to the temptation to abandon the professional arena. The allure of retreatism reflects the struggles many women face in a male-dominated work environment. Nonetheless, this self-possessed woman, who masks her insecurity with an unyielding work ethic, refuses to give up and instead remains open to the changes that life seems about to offer her.
Compiled by Marina Bettaglio
Non vi lascerò orfani (Milan: Mondadori, 2009)
Un karma pesante (Milan: Mondadori, 2010)
L'acustica perfetta (Milan: Montadori, 2012)
Compiled by Marina Bettaglio