Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra

A baby is anonymously delivered to a convent with a tiny key the only  clue to her identity. These are just the beginnings of the mysteries that surround young Rosa Bellocchi.   As Rosa grows, she realizes that she psychically senses the origins of things.  She touches a piece of furniture and is transported to a hard wood jungle.  Or she eats a piece of bread and feels the sun and the wind on the wheat.  Or...she senses the pain and fear of the chinchilla's used to make a fur coat.   You can imagine what she goes through when she tries to eat meat.

When she is grown, Rosa is sent to  sinister Villa Scarfiotti as the governess to a family with secrets.  The Marchesa Scarfiotti is a rail-thin, meat-eating monster covered in make up.  Her husband is haunted by the loss of his sister, and longing for another woman.  Their child, Clementina, is the sad product of this unhappy couple and Rosa is determined to help this waif any way she can.  The Villa is haunted by witches, say the servants, and Rosa understands this to be true.

The Marchesa is threatened by Rosa, and when the chance arises, she schemes to have Rosa unjustly imprisoned.  Sadly, this is easily done in Mussolini dominated Italy, especially by an avowed Fascist admirer like the Marchesa.  Rosa is kept in prison for years, raped by a guard, and bears a daughter, Sibilla.    She is eventually freed after promising to stay away from the Scarfiotti family, but branded an "enemy of the state".

After her release, Rosa must fend for herself and the baby in an increasingly hostile environment.  Mussolini and his Black Shirts have changed the Italy Rosa loves with their omnipresent threat.  However, next few years are happy for her when she meets Luciano, and falls in with his family troupe of performers.  Eventually, she goes to work for Antonio Pirigi, the owner of an antiques shop she met some years before, and finds security in his world, and love with Luciano.  

But Luciano too, has a secret.  He is an active anti-fascist, as are his whole family.  Rosa, torn between love and her need to protect her baby, must make a choice.  Eventually, she knows she must leave Luciano to save Sibilla.  When Antonio proposes, she chooses a life with him.  She learns to love him, they are happy, have two more sons, and build the shop into a thriving business.

Alas,  the war that Mussolini has been steering Italy towards has finally arrived, and Rosa's life and family are torn apart by tragedy and madness.  Bravely facing the Germans, and the inevitable showdown with the Marchesa, Rosa learns the truth about herself, her past, and the woman she has become.

The author vividly brought Mussolini-Era Italy, and Florence to life.  Her description of the villa, the furniture she sells and the streets of the city are detailed, and skillfully rendered.  My only dissatisfaction with this book is that some of the decisions Rosa makes seem oversimplified, and abrupt.  For example, while in prison, Rosa waits months and months trying to get in touch with the priest from the convent, Father Marzoli, to ask for help in getting out. Once he arrived, however, she let him think she was guilty of assisting in an abortion rather than risk anyone at the convent getting in trouble.  She imagines a complicated scenario in which her favorite nun, Suor Maddalena is raped by the same prison guard who raped her.  None of this is even hinted at before and seems a bit sudden, not to mention far-fetched.  Similarly, the truth of Rosa's parentage feels a bit contrived, as does the sudden loss of her psychic gifts.  The witches of the Villa are always hovering in the background, but neither their presence, the witchcraft story line, or their assistance seems fully developed or resolved.

Having said that, I found Rosa to be a totally likable heroine whose bravery in the face of huge odds is endearing.  I really enjoyed learning more about the war in Italy and the Germans part in it, as well as the rise of Mussolini.  The point of the book is that war begins in our own hearts; that violence, even against the animals we eat, can only engender more violence, and that peace is the best thing we can bring the world.  To that end, the author succeeds admirably. 

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (April 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857208764
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857208767

No comments:

Post a Comment