Title: The Story of Anna P as Told by Herself
Author: Penny Busetto
Publisher: Jacana Media Ltd
Reviewer: Funke Osae-Brown
Literature and psychology are two interrelated disciplines and if one attempts to separate one from the other, it will be an arduous task. Writers in all generations have drunk from the fountain of psychology in developing their characters and weaving their stories around them.
And so, Penny Busetto’s novel, ‘The Story of Anna P as Told by Herself’ is a psychological novel that tells a meagre, disturbing story of the past, present, and future of a woman by the name Anna P.
She lives on an island off the coast of Italy but couldn’t remember how she landed on the coast. A native of South Africa, she seems to have no memories of the place or people there. The only person she has any connection with is a sex worker that she pays every hour.
Anna P has obnoxious encounters with strange men, and the narration is unclear whether she occasionally kills these men or not. It is only when she begins to connect emotionally with a young boy, Ugo, in her chanced care and rare concern that she begins to find some value in herself, some place which she will not allow to be abused, and her life gradually changes.
A meticulously written novel, ‘The Story of Anna P as Told by Herself’ questions the nature of memory. It asks critical questions like: Who are we if we lose our memories? What does it mean to lose one’s identity? With no sense of identity, how can we make any moral choices? The answers to these questions may be unpleasant but the narrative captures such existential reflections in an excellent imaginative story that will abide with the reader for a long time.
Busetto uses lyrical language to weave an interesting story with global appeal. Her characters are real and one could draw a parallel between her characterisation and that of Bessie Head’s ‘A Question of Power’.
Busseto’s novel transcends the African landscape, it is a story with a universal appeal. Set in Italy, yet the story resonates in every city of the world. It is a unique prose that chronicles pains, loneliness and loss of identity in an interesting way.
Divided into three parts, Book of the present, Book of Memory and Book of the Future, the author brilliantly switches the narrative from the first person to second person and uses personal pronouns to weave the plot around the characters.
In the Book of the Present, the author narrates the psychological state of Anna P who does not understand how she arrived on the Island where she lives. The author’s attempt to tell the The Story of Anna P is quite deep. The story begins with this gripping sentence: “As I hurry from the harbour to my classroom, the school secretary, Signor Cappi, stops me and hands me a letter.” This kind of sentence makes the reader want to quickly read through the pages to know what follows.
The gripping story continues in the second part, the Book of Memory where Anna P story touches the depth of the reader’s heart. Her true life story is lay bare as a victim of sexual assaults. However, in the last part, Book of the Future, Anna P nervously stretches to her freedom.
The Story of Anna P as Told by Herself is a fascinating novel that takes the issues of identity, self-discovery and existentialism to a new level. The characterisation is apt and the use of simple language makes the story very engaging.