Shelley Read, his heroine “Like the River” in Colorado

UWhen a river encounters an obstacle, it finds an outlet to continue flowing at any cost. As Victoria Nashthe protagonist of Like the river (Corbaccio), faced with extreme trials, every time he finds within himself the strength and resources to start again and grow.

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At the beginning of the narrative, set in Iola, Colorado, from 1948 to 1971, We meet her as a seventeen-year-old with a great loss, due to an accident in which her mother, aunt and cousin lost their lives. Which involves becoming for her the only woman in the house where she lives with her father, brother and war-invalid uncleand having to take care of them and with them the peach orchard which has always been the family’s economy. A hard life that has been passed down for generations.

However the meeting with a young Native American will upset his entire existence, offering her the chance, in love and pain, to find herself. A ferocious, powerful Bildungsroman, resilient, which has as further protagonists the unstoppable nature and the Gunnison river, which is the soundtrack to all the events. A debut for fifty-seven-year-old author Shelley Read which already smacks of a masterpiece in the over twenty-five countries in which it has been translated.

Shelley Read was born and raised in Colorado’s Elk Mountains, where her family has lived for five generations. Like the River is inspired by the landscape from which it comes and will be published in over twenty-five countries. Photo: (c) Andi Tippie

Can you tell us something about yourself and this debut?
I am a professor of literature at the University of Denver and the mother of two children. Ho always wanted to be a writer and worked on this novel for twelve years, when I could. The story had an urgency for me that pushed me not to abandon it. In fact, I am also an American from Colorado for five generations and in this novel there is a lot of my roots.

Can you tell us more about the story and why you felt it was “urgent”?
It’s always a mystery where the stories come from. I could say that I am very curious to know what certain experiences are for people, and so I set this novel in the city of Iola, which was evacuated to create an artificial lake. I grew up in those parts and swam in that lake: knowing that there was a city under the water continued to tease me. I wondered what it had been like to leave a land for those who had cultivated it for generations, at the same time I wondered what it had been like for the Native Americans who in turn had been driven out by the farmers. And then the character of Victoria moved me.

Victoria, Shelley Read’s heroine

Like the river by Shelley Read, Corbaccio324 pages, €18

How would you describe Victoria?
To build her, I drew inspiration from the stories of my ancestors, who were very strong, working women. The novel recounts her emancipation over more than twenty years, through great trials and difficult decisions. These circumstances will make her discover who she is and what she is capable of. One of the things I wanted to explore with Victoria, in fact, is the ability of human beings to endure what seems unbearable. In her case, facing love for a native who was discriminated against by society, then losing him violently and having to face major consequences.

Is suffering therefore seen as an opportunity for growth?
Let’s say that the characters in the novel respond differently to pain, which is an inevitable fact of human life. There are characters who are simply broken by pain, like the uncle who was mutilated in the war. Others who turned it into anger and racism, like Victoria’s brother Seth. Instead Victoria looks him in the face. She manages to take charge of what happens and emerge from every trial stronger.

Is there a difference between men and women in this resilience?
I didn’t want to write a novel that puts men in a bad light, Wilson Moon (Wil), the Native American, is definitely a positive character. But let’s say that, also due to the patriarchal roots of our society, some women have learned in distant times that they have to fight a little harder to assert their identity. This is even more true in a rural context in mid-twentieth century Colorado, where Victoria grew up.

An encounter, as anticipated, is fatal to his growth…
The meeting between Victoria and Wil suddenly changes both their lives. And this is what really happens in the human journey. We believe that things should be a certain way, but suddenly a turning point occurs that changes the course of events. And this brings us back to the metaphor of the river.

With the character of Wil, the theme of discrimination enters the story.
Normally the indigenous people were tied to their land and connected to nature. I wondered what happens when they are uprooted and forced into reservations, or when they flee this condition as vagrants, as Wil does. It was the hardest part of the novel to write, but I didn’t want to turn my face away from the real cruelty of what the indigenous people suffered and suffer.

It is also a nature novel.
Nature was a great teacher for me, and it also becomes so for Victoria when she goes to live alone in the forest. This experience changes her radically. Today we are instead disconnecting and this is turning against us. THE

the book in one sentence?
Victoria says: “What I’ve learned is that transformation takes time.” We change, there is no alternative, but just one experience is not enough. The course is long and unexpected.