Sweet Dreams, Little One took me on an emotional ride from start to finish. Reliving the pain as I empathised with what it is like to lose a mother too soon. Following Massimo’s agonising journey into, and through, adulthood. Funny, emotional, insightful – this book had me laughing, crying, sympathising and reflecting from start to finish.
A quick read, whose pages you will soon be flicking over. I like how it’s broken down in small parts with short chapters, meaning that I was easily able to fit it into my life without losing the thread. It also made it easier to put down when emotions were running high. Massimo writes with touches of humour and light-relief from the serious matter,
“I grew up thinking the State was a manufacturer of biros.”
“once I spread glue all over a bus seat, but then I sat down on it myself.”
Right from the start we learn that Massimo, the protagonist, has lost his mother and had never filled her hopes and dreams of becoming a lawyer. Massimo clearly explained the never-ending journey of grief: Revealing to us his feelings of being abandoned and rejected; of fear, the denial, the feeling different, the anger, and betrayal. Observing when his mother’s things disappeared, and were replaced..The constant questioning of everything, the what ifs, the whys, including whether he was loved.
“Out of all the mothers there were in the world, how come mine had to die?”
Massimo Gramellini does an excellent job of creating sympathy for the protagonist. He does this through the use of language which reflects the innocence of the child. He addresses issues that any of us could face when losing a parent, but illustrated in such a way that you feel that you want to take away the pain for him, because Massimo is just so young. The news of his mother’s death is broken to him by Baloo at Cubs, immediately sending out the message of just how young he is (Cubs are ages eight to ten years). The naivety when he talks about how his mother’s test results could have been better, if only he had the chance to show her how to copy the answers. The use of the word “mummy” when he says that he either wants her back or wants to join her in heaven:
“She’s my mummy, so either bring her back here or take me up there.”
Massimo talks about a maths problem when a little boy keeps on dropping his balls all over the place but keeps on walking as if nothing has happened. Sometimes I feel society wants us just to move on and forget things, as if nothing’s happened. To enjoy the life we have and not let the past get to us. But Massimo explains that would be easy if it were not for Belfagor, the demon inside.
Belfagor is the grief that never lets go. When everyday situations stir those emotions connected with the grief he brings them back to the surface once again. Massimo explains that it was Belfagor making him too self-absorbed to think of others, or to see the world around him.
“I was too taken up in my own suffering to bother about his.”
Massimo feels that everything is about him and he is owed, like when he asked God to let his team score.
“I didn’t want pity or special treatment: I just wanted to be loved.”
But he was unable to see that that was what he was doing at that time, which on reflection it seems that it is something he truly regrets, especially towards his father. He worked in Sarajevo and fought for a boy’s safety, but it was too late and he died. This is when he really began to think about living his life.
“If I’d have been capable of lifting my eyes and looking around me, I would have seen the world was full of much greater problems: wars, epidemics, floods.”
We know from the start there is something that Massimo does not know about his mother’s death and even when I reached the point when my superstitions were confirmed, it hit me like a tonne of bricks.
I could relate to Massimo’s mother as my own mother was also the oldest of five children, just like Giuseppina, and both had to take care of their siblings. Both mothers had their siblings always coming to them for advice. A picture is built up of his mother as a woman who did not deserve to die. Giuseppina was a good, decent woman. When the narrator delivers the powerful blow we are fully aware of why it happened, and why we cannot blame Giuseppina.
“She didn’t give expecting something in return – she just gave, without calculation, without reproach, without hope of reward.”
At the end of the book we are reminded that this is based on the author’s life. So enveloped in the story I had completely forgot that it was not completely fictional. I was moved to tears at how brave Massimo had been to risk criticism for his life and feelings, but glad he did because I am sure he has helped so many.
Critics I have seen say they do not have sympathy for the protagonist as an adult. I feel that this is because they do not understand him, as they have never been unfortunate enough to have encountered Belfagor themselves. The book seems to turn into a self-help book at the end, for all those who are suffering the same as Massimo. What he learns about his mother and how he finally comes to forgive her, and start living, is really insightful.
Available from Alma Books
Originally published in Italian, this international best seller has been translated into fourteen languages and sold over 1.2 million copies! A fantastic read and not only would I recommend it but I have TWO to giveaway!
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I received a free copy of the book in order to review it, and 2 giveaway copies. All words and opinions are my own.