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by Esther Kinsky, translated from the German by Caroline Schmidt

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Il rombo is an Italian term for the subterranean rumble before an earthquake. In May and September 1976, two severe earthquakes ripped through the Friuli region in northeastern Italy, causing extensive damage. About a thousand people died under the rubble, tens of thousands were left without shelter, and many ended up leaving their homes forever.

Rombo is a record of this disaster and its aftermath, as told by seven men and women who were children at the time: Anselmo, Mara, Olga, Gigi, Silvia, Lina, and Toni. They speak of portents that preceded the earthquakes and of the complete disorder that followed, the obliteration of all that was familiar and known by heart. Their memories, like the earth, are subject to rifts and abysses. Esther Kinsky splices these indelible, incomplete recollections with exacting descriptions of the alpine region, forgoing a linear narrative for a deftly layered collage that reaches back and forth in time. The brilliantly original book that emerges is both memorial and purgatorial mount.

Additional Book Information

Series: New York Review Books
ISBN: 9781681377247
Pages: 232
Publication Date:


Rombo’s fractured chorus of voices dramatizes the ruptures created by the trauma of the earthquake. Together, the eyewitness accounts produce a kind of shifting mosaic – one might call it ‘rubble narration’ – which tries to convey the catastrophe, and the community it destroyed, while stranded irredeemably in the aftermath... For Kinsky, nature ultimately provides no escape from loss, no solace or release from human tragedy (it is sometimes, as with the earthquake, the cause of it). What it may offer, however, is the possibility of coming to terms with this absence-filled world.
—Andrew Wells, New Left Review

Rombo is at once similar to and very different from Kinsky’s earlier works. It retains a deep attachment to the importance of landscape, self, and memory, and pieces together a narrative spread across time and place, but also lends itself to an established tradition in European literature—novelized history writing, a fictionalized biography, presented as testimony, and seeking to refract history into the minutiae of daily life... in collating this polyphonic account of landscape and language, Kinsky illustrates the difficult navigation of that senseless new order, in a land as inconstant as limestone, where the jagged mountains rise up and up on all sides.
—Aditya Narayan Sharma, Los Angeles Review of Books

A lyrical, meticulous inquiry into the alchemy of memory.
Kirkus Reviews

Written in the form of a travelogue, this fictional narrative—named for the Italian word for 'rumble'—records the memories of survivors of two earthquakes that devastated the Friuli region of Italy in the nineteen-seventies. Kinsky threads their stories with descriptions of native flora. . . . While the narrator offers insights about collective trauma and the transformative impact of nature’s whims on one’s sense of home, the book is filled with the voices of the landscape’s inhabitants.
The New Yorker

A chorus of seven villagers narrate the novel from a vantage point close to the present day . . . . Kinsky is also a poet, and she has a poet’s ear for rhythm and precision, elegantly rendered in Caroline Schmidt’s translation. The author has a great gift for describing landscape.
—Charlie Lee, TLS

It reads cinematically; the cuts are determined and stylistic. . . .The book excels when it manages to balance the grand geology of its subject matter on the tiny gestures of daily life. . . . Rombo is staggering. There is something epic about it.
—Magnus Rena, Review 31

Kinsky expertly animates the natural world around her while removing her human hand. . . . If trauma is the inability to redescribe, Rombo offers a powerful antidote in language and the infinite possibilities of description.
—Matthew Janney, Financial Times

Esther Kinsky has more eyes than most; in her novel Rombo she evokes the entire life of an Italian village before, during, and after the two devastating earthquakes of 1976, but each plant and animal central to the village is also a character, and the most important character of all is the landscape itself. The book becomes as much about the futures as the past, for our natural disasters are increasingly man-made, and we need more than ever this reminder of universal impermanence and the marks of memory we leave in its wake.
—Mary Ruefle

A tragic travelogue to the underworld-turned-world that recasts a newly lost Italian past with a climate-wise chorus straight out of the most harrowing Greek drama.
—Joshua Cohen

In Esther Kinsky’s new novel language becomes the highest form of compassion and solidarity — not only with us human beings, but with the whole world, organic, non-organic, speaking out with many mouths and living voices. A miracle of a book; should be shining when it gets dark.
—Maria Stepanova

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