Published in Italy in 1913 but never before translated into English, this richly atmospheric novel by Deledda (1871-1936), the second woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature (1926), is a tale of penitence, salvation and a Christian-peasant notion of destiny. Deledda (Cosima; After the Divorce) traces the decline of the noble Pintor sisters, who live in Sardinia at the turn of the century. Proud but poor, the three sisters, Ruth, Ester and Nomi, are reduced to selling their farm's produce clandestinely from their own house. They would be totally bereft without their wise servant Efix, who has continued to work for them without pay because he is guilt-ridden over a long-ago sin. Giacinto, the son of the fourth, dead, Pintor sister, turns up and brings with him old bitter memories. Eventually, he unwittingly causes his aunts to sink further into poverty. Even in this flat translation, Deledda beautifully captures the rough, malaria-ridden Sardinian setting, where superstition vies with theology, folklore has a strong hold on the imagination and "the sound of the accordion fills the courtyard with moans and shouts." The novel bears some resemblance to Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard in its depiction of the decline of a noble class, and to Carlo Levi's Christ Stopped at Eboli in its portrait of 20th-century peasants who still harbor medieval beliefs in sprites and witches. In a conversation with one of the Pintor sisters, Efix muses, "We are reeds, and fate is the wind." Deledda evocatively depicts the desperate plight of the peasants who hope for a heavenly redemption from their earthly hardships.
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