A haunting and powerful portrait of a young French girl, and her desire to escape the world in which she is born, without losing her identity
In the marshy, misty countryside of southwestern France, fourteen-year-old Galla rides her battered bicycle from the private Catholic high school she attends on scholarship to the rocky, barren farm where her family lives. It’s a journey she makes every two weeks, forty miles round trip, traveling between opposite poles of ambition and guilt, school and home. Galla’s loving, overwhelmed, incompetent mother doesn’t want her to go to school; she wants her to stay at home, where Galla can look after her neglected little sisters, defuse her father’s brutal rages, and help with the chores. What does this dutiful daughter owe her family, and what does she owe herself? In Inès Cagnati’s haunting, emotionally and visually powerful novel Free Day, which won France’s Prix Roger Nimier in 1973, Galla makes an extra journey on a frigid winter Saturday to surprise her mother. As she anticipates their reunion, stopping often to pry caked, gelid mud off her bicycle wheels, she mentally retraces the crooked path of her family’s past and the more recent map of her school life as a poor but proud student. Galla’s rich, dense interior monologue blends with the landscape around her, building a powerful portrait of a girl who yearns to liberate herself from the circumstances that confine her, without losing their ties to her heart.
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