Published April 30th, 2013
By Patricia Borlenghi
This is an historical novel set in Northern Italy at the turn of the 20th century. Zaira is a young, determined girl, seeking a new life away from her restricting peasant farming background.
However things do not go according to plan when she meets Leonardo, a rich landowner and becomes companion to his delicate wife, Livietta. When Zaira gives birth to twins their lives are changed forever.
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“Zaira” is a passionate heroine who inhabits a passionate novel, which moreover conveys so much truth about life in the Italian Apennines at the turn of the 20th century. This portrait of an `alienated’ peasant for whom domestic chores, the ‘joys’ of marriage, and village life, with its communal rituals, simply have no meaning is extremely effective. In the first few chapters the author’s main concern seems to be that of creating a setting, of rendering the social environment from which Zaira stems. When I started reading the book I wondered whether the heroine was slightly anachronistic in relation to her setting. Zaira is a bright, sensitive and unconventional young woman, the kind of girl you find in Henry James’s novels – ranging from “The Portrait of a Lady” to “Daisy Miller” – and who is usually destined to see her high expectations frustrated by life. Unlike Madame Bovary, Zaira does not dream of romantic attachments, but rather of “a career, adventure, excitement”. Briefly, she is a new woman transplanted into a little village on the Apennines… Yet, far from being a projection of the author onto the Italian past, far from being a figment of a retrospective anthropological imagination, Zaira fully comes to life. After the introductory chapters, she shows such a strong personality that readers are captivated by her and by her destiny, which becomes increasingly melodramatic. Instead of the career and freedom she has dreamt of, Zaira finds love and this turns all her hopes and plans topsy-turvy. The book teems with life, emotions and suspense, and proves more and more enticing as its plot unfolds. One can feel that the author did not write “Zaira” using only her `conscious dimension’, but that this story is rooted down there – in that magmatic region of our psyche from which all truly alluring writing stems… At times the virtually `melodramatic’ élan of these pages reminded me of a writer I love – Elsa Morante.
Patricia Borlenghi set up the Patrician Press at the end of 2012. She is the author of several children’s books including Chaucer the Cat and the Animal Pilgrims, Dear Aunty and The Bloomsbury Nursery Treasury and has worked in publishing throughout he …Visit Patricia Borlenghi‘s page