Elise Valmorbida comes to the blog today with a story of an Italian woman as she navigates life, love, maturing, and the changes wrought by World War II in
The Madonna of the Mountains
“You’ve got to get married or you’ll end up like that witch in a nightdress,” Mama says whenever Maria is excitable or ungrateful.
The year is 1923 and Maria is twenty-five, unmarried and without options unless her father’s journey through the mountains in the slowly burgeoning spring should find her a husband. She dreams of marrying near Easter, where the date chosen will signify to al a position of esteem. And yes, her father is fortunate (it is after The Great War) and finds Achille Montanari, a man with ‘prospects’ even if her wedding contains the bleating of farm animals in the second room of her in-law’s house. Soon, however, Maria and Achille have two young children and a small shop in Fasso, although she still doesn’t feel ‘settled’, particularly not when the tenor in the country begins to change with the increasing power gained by Mussolini and the ever more frequent appearance of the “Brown Shirts”, the fascists that soon will threaten everyone and everything she’d known.
Above all, this is an unvarnished and often bleakly honest portrayal of the life of one woman, as she struggles with unexpected choices, struggles and even loyalties as her life progresses. Truly, Maria’s only hope, once the dreamy optimism of what a marriage and a life COULD be has faded with reality, her only option is survival. Survival and safety of her family, keeping her (now 4) children safe, and making the correct choices when navigating the ever-changing waters of social interactions as people, also in their own battles for survival, become less open, perhaps even less trustworthy, as time goes on.
Valmorbida has presented a story that is somber reading, but all the more lovely for it. Maria isn’t the chirpy heroine, determined to face her fears and move forward with a smile, easily navigating troubled times, shortages, gossips and danger. No, she is real and often stubbornly resisting change, fearful and obstinate, even haughty at points, with a frequent tendency to find herself remembering her own mother, her tendency to use old sayings and a rather archaic attitude to move through times of trouble. Of course, her faith is a constant presence as well, as her early lack of understanding about the world and the changes to come, all too quickly is a thing of the past, leaving her (as we all are) unprepared for the twists, turns and changes that life will bring.
Title: The Madonna of the Mountains
Author: Elise Valmorbida
Genre: Family Saga, Historic Woman's Fiction, Historical Fiction, Setting: Italy
Published by: Spiegal & Grau
Published on: 12 June, 2018
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 12 Hours: 18 minutes
Get Your Copy: Amazon ♦Audible
An epic and inspiring novel about one woman's survival in the hardscrabble Italian countryside, oppressed by both a patriarchal society and by Mussolini's iron-fist rule, but determined to protect her family throughout the war--by any means possible.
A sweeping saga about womanhood, loyalty, war, religion, family, motherhood, and marriage, The Madonna of the Mountains is set in Italy during the 1920s to the 1950s, and follows its heroine, Maria Vittoria, from her girlhood in the austere Italian mountains through her marriage to a young war veteran to the birth of her four children, through the National Fascist Party Rule and ending with a decision that will forever affect her family. Maria must ensure that her family survives the harsh winters of the war, when food is scarce and allegiances are questioned. She can trust no one and fears everyone--her Fascist cousin, the madwoman from her childhood, her watchful neighbors, the Nazis and the Partisans who show up at her door. Over the decades, as Maria's children grow up and away from her, and as her marriage endures its own hardships, the novel takes us into the mind and heart of one woman who must hold her family together with resilience, love, and faith, in a world where the rules are constantly changing.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.