I have just finished Elise Valmorbida's ‘The Madonna of the Mountains', set in the Veneto region of north east Italy at the time of Mussolini and Italian fascism.
Elise is a close friend of Anne Aylor and co-founder of the weekly writing group they both attend. I have loved her writing ever since I read 'The Book of Happy Endings'. About unusual couples, I am pleased to have introduced her to my Iraqi friends, Haifa Zangana and Mundher al-Adhami, who have their own chapter.
I read 'Madonna ... ' straight through in two days. It gripped me to such an extent I found myself re-reading sentences because of their content and structure. In fact I realised I was reading an astonishing prose poem.
Characters and place were tangible. I could see them and felt their presence.
And the food and its centrality to life and survival in this community? Its primacy, its value, its origins, its preparation held more important that the actual taste. I found that interesting.
As a ‘political’ being I wanted to know more as to why X was a fascist, Y anti-fascist and the main character, Maria and her family just trying to survive. Towards the end I realised that the content and rhythm of this book is much more political than the Political. And will therefore stand the test of time.
If readers want to know what life was like in Mussolini's Italy they should turn to this book and keep Gramsci for later!
('The Madonna of the Mountains' is available on Amazon, in Watersones and other good bookshops. Published by Faber, it is already winner of The Times 'book of the month'.)