The Seamstress of Sardinia

Bianca Pitzorno, Brigid Maher

The Seamstress of Sardinia
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The Seamstress of Sardinia

Bianca Pitzorno, Brigid Maher

The irresistible story of a young woman seeking freedom and happiness.

Born into poverty, the seamstress spends her days sewing in the houses of wealthy families. Her work is simple and honest; taught by her nonna, she skilfully prepares nightgowns, undergarments and children’s clothes, leaving the finer work of dressmaking to the ateliers in Paris.

Her story weaves in and out of the lives of the people she works for, whose secrets and scandals she is privy to. Some are kind and generous, others blinded by their desire to climb the social ladder. She dreams of freeing herself from the hardscrabble life she has inherited but can’t help being pulled back in by the love of the people around her.

Set at the dawn of the twentieth century, The Seamstress of Sardinia follows the girl as she grows into a woman, strives to educate herself and falls in love-always fighting for her independence in a world dominated by men and old social conventions.

Review

I think the beauty of The Seamstress of Sardinia is that it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Bianca Pitzorno’s unadorned storytelling brings an honest and sympathetic clarity to the story of a modest young woman living a, mostly, quiet life that is underpinned but not totally defined by her poverty. We first meet her at the end of the 1800s when she is a little girl living with her seamstress grandmother after their family is decimated by cholera. She is taught the basics of sewing by this hardworking and independent woman who earns her living attending to the needs of wealthy families. The grandmother is a thrifty and wise woman, illiterate and practical, she can’t afford to provide schooling for her granddaughter but teaches her to know her place in society and, as she matures, to protect her safety.

The girl develops into a steadfast and observant worker. As she relates her stories of the households she works in, and the situations she is privy to, I admired her quiet dignity. Her mastery of the needle is exemplary, but it is her desire to educate herself and grab every opportunity to do so that really resonates. She has no illusions of grandeur; she purely wants to read and understand the world for her own enlightenment. I took vicarious pleasure in her resilience and the joys she got from small pleasures.

The seamstress forms friendships with some of the wealthy families she works for and learns from their foibles and experiences, sometimes incredulous at their wealth and also at the staggering parsimony of others. She is an onlooker to intrigue and a society where liberties are many, but a stifling rigidity offset these. The juxtaposition of their lives with hers could not be more glaring and the forces they bring to bear when she doesn’t succumb to their bidding is chilling. I loved this wonderful young woman and how she never succumbs to self-pity but endures despite all the vicissitudes of life.


Alexa Dretzke is from Readings Hawthorn

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