The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida
Set in the Veneto region of northern Italy, this novel about life in rural Italy between the 1920s and 50s is compulsively beautiful. It opens with a young woman, Maria, waiting for her father to bring home a husband for her – preferably one undamaged by the war. Achille is strong, handsome and relatively unscathed. Together they make a life and family together, but beneath that are the undercurrents of a society in upheaval as the Fascists take hold and families are divided, or, worse, do and say nothing.
Both Achille’s and Maria’s secrets end up tormenting them in what is becoming an abusive union, but when Achille is denounced as a black-marketer and then imprisoned, Maria enters a pact with her Fascist cousin that obsesses her. This is a finely drawn portrait of a society in transition, and of one woman’s desperate attempts to hold together her family. Elise Valmorbida has managed to create a very powerful and compelling book.