In this novel, which is based on a true story (that of the author’s great-grandparents) the main characters Eva and Marcello arrive in the USA from Italy in the late 19th century, and the story follows their separate narratives as they struggle with the early years of migration; Marcello goes first, hoping to send for Eva soon, but in fact the couple are forced to be apart for six years. Interwoven with this is a history of the Stregas, of childbirth and healing in both Italy and the USA – and in the latter the practice of midwifery is increasingly under attack as “barbaric”.
The characters are brave, very human and likeable; I found myself really caring what happened to them and quite unable to put the book down. I knew little about the Stregas, and was sad to read of their passing but delighted that such traditions are returning. Details of the training Eva undertook were both fascinating and believable and Marcello’s story, too, is interesting as it describes well the hardships and racism suffered by Italian (and no doubt many other) immigrants of the time.
The book is so enjoyable, I think, because it is a story of real people, their struggles, loves and lives. A character-driven story always does it for me, and of course it takes a good writer to pull this off – many books with a “pagan” theme simply don’t have interesting or believable characters and I quickly find them tiresome. Not so here! The novel also makes me want to visit the part of Italy that Eva and Marcello came from, the Abruzzi – struggling with famine at the time of the events, and I read somewhere that even today, and despite its central location, the region is usually considered to belong to southern Italy.
I’m a bit jealous – I know little of my own grandparents, most of whom died when I was very young, and almost nothing of my earlier ancestors, except for the knowledge that they came from Ireland and from the north of England. How wonderful to have a story like this (and how much work must have been done to tease out the strands of it and create this really good novel!)
I notice a reviewer on amazon.com suggested the book would make a great movie or TV series and absolutely agree, I would love to see this story on the screen! Anyone with any influence in the movie business, please take note!