Review: The Madonna of the Mountains

The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida

Spiegel & Grau, 2018.  Hardcover, 368 pages.Cover: The Madonna of the Mountains

The Madonna of the Mountains is a saga covering the 1920s-1950s through the eyes of Maria
Vittoria, an Italian woman in the mountains of Northern Italy.  Known to her family as simply Maria, the protagonist starts the novel as a spinster who must marry before her younger sisters are allowed the opportunity.  To this end, her father seeks a husband for his daughter he considers proper, a young World War I veteran named Achille. After the two meet and marry, Achille takes Maria to the plains where they run a grocery store.  Over the years, the couple has five children, each who face their own struggles though mainly the two oldest, Primo and
Amelia, and the youngest, Bruna, are profiled the most.

The Madonna of the Mountains aims to show the struggle of womanhood under Fascist rule and
within Italy’s patriarchal and religious society.  In fact, this is the key to the novel as we see how Maria handles the associated struggles.  In all that goes wrong, Maria turns to religion for comfort. Under Fascist rule, Maria is forced to make many choices for her family to support them, especially after two key events.  And throughout, Maria grapples with her forced marriage and how that has affected every aspect of her life, including relationships with her own family. One added complication is that of her cousin, Dullio, a dedicated Black Shirt. Readers will also see all the day to day tasks Maria was expected to perform.  And no novel set in Italy is complete without a vendetta, curses, superstitions, and family disputes.

In all, I think that The Madonna of the Mountains met the goal it aimed for.  Readers will complete the novel with a greater understanding of both womanhood in Italy and of life under Fascist rule.  The character of Maria is not perfect, and if she were, the story would lose a lot of meaning. She shows that love for her family, mainly her children, takes precedence over most everything, even if she must resort to sketchy means to ensure food is on their table or take drastic actions again
those she is closest to. Italy under Mussolini was not a good place to live; in fact, I have heard stories from my own family.  It was harsh, especially for those who refused to join the Fascist Party and this novel does not hesitate to show this.  In the end, Maria is a very human character and that makes her relatable to most readers and the setting in which she is placed illustrates an era and place often not covered in English-language literature.

This novel will be released on June 12, 2018.  Thanks to NetGalley for a digital advanced reader’s copy!


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