Reviewed by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer
La Brigantessa is a fascinating novel that sweeps the reader into one of the most unsettled historical decades of Italian History – the Unification of Italy, which took place between 1860 to 1870. What impressed me most about this novel was how factual history was seamlessly interwoven with a handful of fictional characters and how they were impacted during this tumultuous political period. This is what I expect from a good historical fiction novel – to be entertained as well as educated, and this novel did this brilliantly.
Each of the main characters was well drawn out; with intriguing backgrounds, unique adversities they face, and fascinating personalities. A common thread between them was the theme of poor vs rich and the prejudices that existed between those two classes. As I read, I truly felt their hunger, their desperation, their driving needs. The background, customs, and culture of southern Italy, namely Calabria, really came to life and I could visualize the foods, the surroundings, and those tiny details of everyday life.
Gabriella Falcone is the protagonist, a young peasant who lives with a loving father and a younger brother. Together they take care of the parish priest, Don Simone. She is in love with a young man named Tonino who prepares to ask for her hand in marriage. But when the wealthy Alfonso Fantin arrives from the north to seize parish lands, he assaults Gabriella. The attack results in her stabbing Alfonso. To avoid persecution, Don Simone helps Gabriella and her younger brother flee to safety. This thrusts them into the path of danger and interaction with the brigands / rebels of the time.
Part love story, part historical recounting, the author gives us an accurate glimpse of the turmoil of the time and how the people of Calabria suffered. Stories about the Italian unification are rare, so it was a real pleasure to read this novel. The author vividly brought to life the rich Calabrian culture and made me feel as if I was there. Completely engrossed in this tale, I read it in two sittings. I could not put it down. If you are like me, a fan of Italian historicals, then get this novel. Get it now! You will not be disappointed.
La Brigantessa is published by Inanna Publications
Mirella Sichirollo Patzer is the author of The Orphan of the Olive Tree and The Prophetic Queen.