Get ready because time is going to start moving quick. These chapters featured all kinds of fascinating plot points. Political intrigue, romantic intrigue, fear mongering, cunning women, boorish men, and two babies! Which is approximately three more babies than I expected when I was told I was going to be reading a historical fiction novel set during World War I.
This week we read chapters 23 through 26.
(If you missed last week’s discussion, you can find it here.)
Isabella Roselli - A young adult woman living at the Blessings Convent in Lucca. She earns the love of her fellow sisters with her ability to grow gardens and cook delicious meals even though she doesn’t believe their interpretations of God or enjoy the convent’s rituals. Has a strong relationship with DeAngelo Martellino and has donated much of her time to help the Venero family do good enough work to avoid being evicted by the Martellinos. Constantly in conflict with Susanna Martellino.
Franco Carollo - A young man, though still the youngest of a family of four. His parents live on and work at a farm in Puglia. Questions everything. Similar to his mother. Slow, deliberate, contemplative. Buried his older brother after a battle before deserting the Italian army. Currently the manager at the Martellino vineyard and courting Isabella.
The Venero family - Angelina and her children. They work at the Martellino farm. Angelina has come out of her shell since Antonio began working there.
Susanna Martellino - Landowner’s wife in her mid-20s. Wife of Giovanni, mother to DeAngelo. Bitter, petty, and vindictive, her venomous words harm everyone she interacts with.
Antonio San Stefano - Franco’s former sergeant. Originally from Sicily, he found himself short both a left hand a job with the end of the war. Now works on the olives and as a salesman for the Martellinos.
Alfredo Obizzi - Fascist politician who fills Susanna’s head with dire warnings about the alleged socialist nature of her employees while having an affair with her.
Franco and Isabella return from the mountains after a couple weeks’ convalescence for Franco. Upon their return they discover that the peasants in the area surrounding the Martellino farm are planning to strike. Franco is torn because he doesn’t not want to join them - he feels a sense of ownership over the vineyards and doesn’t want to see a crop lost - but he doesn’t want to oppose them either. Antonio then breaks the news that he’s been able to find more leads for sales and as everyone in the courtyard celebrates this news Susanna stands in her window and assumes the celebration is for joining with the striking peasants.
Meanwhile, Giovanni has been meeting with the other landowners to hash out a plan of what to do. They came up with a contract to give in to some of the demands of the peasants. He discusses the situation with Franco. Afterward Franco admits his love of Isabella to Giovanni and asks for his advice. Giovanni is troubled because he wants to support his worker’s romance but fears for his wife’s reaction. Giovanni asks him to wait to propose to her until the next day because of an important union meeting.
Unfortunately, Franco is lost in love and as he is on his way to the union meeting he finds himself on the path to the convent instead. His attempted proposal is interrupted by the arrival of Susanna and he has to hide. As soon as Isabella gets rid of her, he asks her to meet him for dinner at eight o’clock, after the union meeting and then finally goes where he should have been all along, but arrives an hour late. After he arrives he discovers that everyone wants his opinion because he’s the manager of one of the largest vineyards in the area and because the oils and wins they produce are talk of the town. By the time he finishes answering all of their questions it’s nine o’clock. He races to their meeting spot and does not find her. He begins searching the entire town for her and eventually finds her and makes a dramatic, desperate declaration of his feelings for her and begs her to marry him. She says yes.
Isabella’s engagement is met with celebration by the entire market square. Many jokes are told and laughed at. She’s asked by the Mother Superior to provide refreshments at a nearby political rally and proceeds over with some of her goods. While in a dining tent setting up, she’s groped by Alfredo Obizzi. Isabella seems to think she can use the relationship to blackmail him and keep herself safe.
Alfredo won’t be cowed quite so easily, though. He goes to Susanna and tells his side of the story - just the part where Isabella knows about their affair. Susanna vows to handle it. But the first time she confronts Isabella, Isabella tells her of her knowledge as well, but offers to be a friend. After the harvest Giovanni admits to Franco that he’s beginning to see that life can be better than it had ever seemed before and that he’s going to stop trying to make Susanna see it. Susanna confronts Giovanni again at dinner that night with more of the fascist rhetoric but it seems he truly is determined to stop trying to make her see reason. His calm, reasonable replies send her storming out.
Susanna drives to where she knows Obizzi is but finds him there with another woman. She slaps him soundly but Obizzi denies knowing her and security drags her away. She flees to a spa to try to clear her head but returns with a cold. Everyone at the farm is busy with the next batch of wine and the upcoming wedding so she doesn’t get as much attention as she thinks she deserves. She decides not to attend the wedding due to her illness so, of course, Isabella goes to offer some remedies to help her feel better and it makes her late to her own wedding. Isabella’s words during the treatment seemed to have finally reached Susanna and she showed up at the end of the ceremony to stand in the back. When the Martellinos, Franco, and Isabella arrive back at the vineyard they discover that the townsfolk have all come together to build a modest cottage for the newlyweds.
Time passes. Isabella has a child, Susanna becomes pregnant by Obizzi, and Obizzi continues his political machinations while using Susanna for his own pleasure and refusing to allow her to leave her husband. Obizzi attempts to make a sly political ploy by accidentally running into a wealthy landlord but first he sees Isabella and can’t resist trying to make her uncomfortable. Unfortunately for him, she’s much wilier than he is. When he tries to plant the idea that Susanna’s child is legitimate she immediately figures out it’s actually his. When he runs into his political mark she tricks him into purchasing several crates of her produce for people he otherwise would never have considered helping.
That night Isabella decides to go offer comfort to Susanna who takes her up on it, crying and confessing her situation. But Giovanni overhears the entire thing. And, of course, Susanna blames her for it. Susanna writes to Obizzi begging for him to help her and he decides he’d rather dig up dirt on people and make the whole situation go away. That’s when he discovers that Franco is a deserter.
A lot happened in these few chapters but not much that was particularly bad or good that made me really want to talk about it. The most important thing was that we did not have one of those moments you see in TV shows all the time where the will-they-won’t-they couple is JUST ABOUT TO TIE THE KNOT but then some tiny little thing gets in the way (in this case, Franco was late to his meeting with Isabella) and the whole thing gets called off. Fortunately she forgave him and chose to marry him anyway.
We did have a few plot twists that occurred primarily because I was sure the consequences would be more dire than they were, at least initially. When Isabella fights with Alfredo I expected him to use his political power to harm her somehow. When he didn’t do that I assumed that somehow Susanna would find out, hate Isabella even more, and do even more to make her life miserable. Neither thing has come to pass...yet. Finally, I assumed Isabella would something rash and horrific once Obizzi told her that Isabella knew of their affair but she didn’t honestly do much at all.
I really liked the scene after the wedding where they find that all of the townspeople have built Isabella a cottage in gratitude for all she’s done for them. It’s an excellent show-don’t-tell moment for the audience and Susanna both to see the wealth that Isabella has gained by her generosity. Because she helped many people in small ways whenever she could they did something huge together for her that she might never have been able to do on her own. Susanna doesn’t seem to be taking that lesson to heart but I hope we’ll all remember that, generally, people are pretty cool and when we do nice things for them it’s not only the right thing to do but it can benefit us down the line.
For the first time since we started reading this book I have hope that Susanna might be saved from the fate of being horribly petty and frustrating forever. But I could just as easily have my hopes dashed as a Chiefs fan during the playoffs over the last 30 years. Or a Royals fan after Spring Training over most of the same period, for that matter. But I guess that’s never stopped us before. Next time we’ll read chapters 27 through 30.
Will Susanna Martellino be redeemed?
This poll is closed
Absolutely! Thank the heavens!
Probably, but I wish she wouldn’t.
No, but I wish she would!
Nope. Evil forever.