The Empire of Dirt: A Novel (Paperback)

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The Empire of Dirt: A Novel By Francesca Manfredi, Ekin Oklap (Translated by) Cover Image
By Francesca Manfredi, Ekin Oklap (Translated by)
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Staff Reviews

In a rural Italian village there is a house set a little way from town, "the blind house," which is said to be cursed and home to three generations of women said to be witches. The summer we meet Valentina, she is teetering on the brink of adolescence: one day she discovers blood in her underwear, and her initial horror only grows when she finds that the crack in the wall of her room is bleeding along with her. The blind house has other secrets that crop up over the course of the novel, burdens that each woman must learn to bear in her own way as she carves out her respective place in the world. At its heart, this is a story about feminine chaos, intimacy, and desire set against the thick claustrophobia of a rural Italian village, all relayed in folksy magical realism. Deeply absorbing, a little unsettling, beautiful.

— Caroline Froh


In this captivating English-language debut, three generations of women must face their secrets and regrets when an old family curse awakens.

There has always been tension in “the blind house,” where Valentina lives with her mother and grandmother in the Italian countryside. Valentina’s pious grandmother often hints at a family curse, while Valentina’s mother scoffs at superstition; it’s one of the battlegrounds on which they fight to control Valentina’s upbringing.

But in the summer of 1996, when Valentina is twelve, she gets her period for the first time—and the curse suddenly becomes frighteningly real. Blood leaks from the walls; the house and farm are overrun with frogs; the kitchen crawls with flies. Valentina is certain that she has brought catastrophe to her house and its inhabitants.

In this propulsive coming-of-age novel, of mother-daughter relationships and painful family legacies, Valentina is forever changed by the events of one terrifying summer.

About the Author

Francesca Manfredi is a graduate of the creative writing school Scuola Holden, founded by Alessandro Baricco. Her debut short story collection, Un Buon Posto Dove Stare (A Place to Stay In), won Italy’s Premio Campiello Opera Prima. She lives in Turin, Italy.

Ekin Oklap was born in Turkey and grew up in Italy. She translates from Turkish and Italian, and currently lives in London. As a translator, she was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.

Praise For…

Remarkable. . . . A compelling read, both disconcerting and enchanting. . . . The Empire of Dirt is a rich puzzle impossible to resist.

— Virginia Reeves - New York Journal of Books

The Empire of Dirt is as elegant and precise as it is haunting.

— The Millions

In Francesca Manfredi’s intense, mesmerizing novel, cosmic forces intersect with the domestic life of a girl and her mother and grandmother. With deceptively simple sentences, Manfredi brilliantly evokes the deep mysteries that lurk within everyday interactions. I couldn’t put this book down.
— Helen Phillips, author of The Need

An elegant and haunting story of feminine chaos and self-possession. Francesca Manfredi’s prose, in Ekin Oklap’s translation, is piercing and full of dark, honest wit.
— Catherine Lacey, author of Pew and Nobody Is Ever Missing

With her magnetic, captivating style and precise linguistic register, Francesca Manfredi leads us on a journey in discovery of ourselves, changing with the turning of the seasons.
— Stefania Massari - Huffington Post Italia

A complex and beautiful novel, with a dreamlike, poetic, but never macabre register.
— Francesca Frediani - D - la Repubblica

At once disconcerting and utterly captivating.
— Florence Courriol-Seita - Le Monde

A coming-of-age story that showcases, with powerful descriptions and poetic prose, the intergenerational clash and unspoken guilt between three women.
— Booklist

Three generations of Italian women living under one roof might be witches or might just be trying to live their lives; point of view is everything.... Valentina endeavors to make sense of her place in a world inhospitable to girls seeking freedom and within a family where secrets reign over truths. Manfredi delivers Valentina’s narrative, as translated by Oklap, in a straightforward and unapologetic tone consistent with the bravado and insecurities of adolescence. Familial truth emerges, one way or another, but it may take a few generations before it can be seen.
— Kirkus

Evocative.... The accomplished prose is a testament to Manfredi’s potential.
— Publishers Weekly

Product Details
ISBN: 9780393881776
ISBN-10: 0393881776
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: July 12th, 2022
Pages: 208
Language: English