A (not very sacred) family in an isolated valley

The Moosbrugger is a family saga. The family, however, is not noble or industrial, like those who have climbed the editorial charts lately, where history blends with a certain aura of elite, even in decadence. I Moosbrugger, which was a success in Germany, and is now published in Italy by Keller, deals with a whole different kind of family: the one of origin of the author, Monika Helfer, who is Austrian, born in the mountains of Bregenzerwald, and descended from two grandparents who, in name, are Maria and Josef. Well, this family of a Mary and a Joseph, lost in the most isolated corner of a remote valley in the mountains of what is still the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is by no means seen as sacred, certainly not by the villagers. Everyone calls them “the Marginalized”, and from there comes Monika Helfer, that is her lineage, whose history and souls she wants to know: therefore, already an adult, she turns to aunt Kathe, elder sister of her mother Grete (who died for years), to be told what happened in that distant valley, at the beginning of another century.

The problem of the marginalized, what differentiates them from all the others in the village and prevents them from integrating, is not the location of their home: that, rather, is a practical consequence, a concrete manifestation of a radical isolation. And this distance, which becomes almost infinite when, in winter, meters of snow fall, is due to two factors: one is Maria, the other is Josef. Maria is beautiful: the most beautiful of all, wherever she goes. In front of Mary, there is no man who does not lose his head and heart. Josef inspires fear: handsome, taciturn, strong, authoritarian, always elegant. He does not mix with anyone, the only one with whom he has (mysterious) “trades” is the mayor. Another problem: what relationship will there really be between Maria and Josef? Okay, they have four children. But will she betray him? And will he beat her? Maria and Josef arouse so much envy and so many gossip that no one can imagine that they really love and want each other. Nobody can even bear that, when Josef is called to fight for the Emperor, in 1914, he goes back on leave twice and even survives the war. What will that outcast Josef have done at the front?

And then, a few months after Josef’s departure, in the city Maria meets a certain Georg, a German, who goes to visit her in that remote house. And she gets pregnant. What do everyone think, from the pastor down? Did the conception take place during Josef’s leave? Obviously not. And neither does Josef think so: in fact, to the fifth daughter, Grete, he does not address either a glance or a word. For all life. Grete is the mother of Monika Helfer. After Grete, two more brothers arrived; then, within a year, Maria and Josef died. The writer’s six uncles, all marginalized, are one more wonderful than the other: from the brilliant and gruff Lorenz to the seducer Walter, from Heinrich who loves only animals to the irrepressible Kathe. Beggars, ended up in jail. Moving. Struggling to survive, as Outcasts, even when their parents leave them alone, with the oldest being nineteen, and the youngest two. Monika Helfer has always been told that she resembles her “splendid grandmother”, Maria: The Moosbruggers, with her literary and familiar writing, reminiscent of a long chat with a centenary aunt, is a beautiful, loving way to remember her .

A (not very sacred) family in an isolated valley