Well, this is it. The end. The culmination of an entire off-season’s worth of reading a historical fiction novel. I’ve said it before - a couple of times, now, I think - but I’ll say it again: thanks for joining on this wild ride and I hope you’ll look forward to something more closely related to baseball next week as Spring Training baseball games have finally started!
This week, of course, we finished the book. And the finale did not disappoint!
(If you missed last week’s discussion, you can find it here.)
Isabella Carollo (née Roselli) - A young adult woman who used to live at the Blessings Convent in Lucca. She is married to Franco and they have a child, Liliana. Extremely talented farmer/gardener and cook. Has a strong relationship with DeAngelo 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 married to Isabella.
The Venero family - Angelina and her children. They work at the Martellino farm. Angelina and Antonio have begun a romance.
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. Pregnant with Alfredo’s child.
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. Married to Angelina Venero and stepfather to her children.
Alfredo Obizzi - Fascist politician who convinced Susanna to have an affair then rid himself of her when she became pregnant.
The Great Depression is beginning to be felt in Italy at Christmas 1929 and all the workers at the Martellino vineyard are forced to go without pay to make ends meet. The two Martellino boys return home for Christmas holiday and the argument between Giovanni and Susanna over their education heats up again when they talk about how much time their school spends teaching them about Mussolini and fascism.
Elsewhere, Alfredo Obizzi discovers that running a restaurant is not as simple as taking over a popular business from a popular man and waiting for the money to roll in. He, of course, is convinced that it is sabotage of some sort; men like Obizzi never see their own mistakes in their failures, only the hatred of others. And who could hate him more than Isabella Carollo and the others at the Martellino vineyard?
Isabella becomes pregnant, again. The Martellino wine is chosen to be served to Mussolini when he will visit Lucca in 1931. It’s Christmas 1930 and that means DeAngelo and Pietro are home, again. Liliana Carollo and DeAngelo are now teenagers and Liliana has a crush on DeAngelo but at first, it seems he doesn’t return her affections since he met a different girl at school. Pietro and Isabella have a conversation about how much Pietro wants to be a soldier and punish the non-fascists.
The day before Mussolini is due to arrive in Lucca, Isabella offers to take the children to see the arch that will be dedicated to “Il Duce”. Only DeAngelo takes her up on the offer. However, when they arrive they find a furious, drunken Obizzi who immediately assaults Isabella for her imagined role in the failure of his restaurant. DeAngelo, in an attempt to defend her, throws a rock at Obizzi’s head and cuts him badly. Obizzi flees, but the damage is done. Isabella miscarries because of his attack. Still, even as she lies on the ground in agonizing pain she knows the potential consequences if anyone else finds out what has happened. She tells DeAngelo he must keep the secret of Obizzi’s assault for fear one or more of the men at the farm will seek vengeance upon him and be hurt or killed.
Isabella is rushed to the hospital and everyone fears for her life until Franco has a religious epiphany and chooses to believe that she’ll be fine. The next morning the doctor informs them that she will heal but she will never be able to become pregnant again. Susanna discovers that Obizzi had been admitted to the hospital at the same time as Isabella and must have been involved.
Obizzi discovers that the bandage over the cut on his forehead means he’s not photogenic enough to stand on the stage with Mussolini and is forced to go to the VIP gallery, instead. Susanna finds him there to confront him about his role in Isabella’s injury, but he denies everything. She taunts him by pointing out that Mussolini will be drinking her vineyard’s wine. But her taunting has inspired Obizzi. As soon as she’s out of his vision he immediately heads for the food and drink storage area to destroy their casks.
Susanna is so upset about the lost prestige and the injustice of it all that she exposes Obizzi’s two-pronged assault to everyone at the vineyard. Franco’s mind is filled with rage and Susanna gives him a revolver so he can do something about it. But DeAngelo grabs him. Then Liliana and Pietro. Then everyone else except Susanna. He collapses to his knees and gives up on vengeance. Susanna, unfortunately, will not give up that easily. She gets in the car and drives away, the revolver having been left in the car by Franco when everyone stopped him. Giovanni, Franco, and Isabella pile into the vineyard truck to chase after her.
They’re too late, however, as they arrive at the hotel in time only to hear a gunshot. When they find Susanna and Alfredo she is looming above him after having blasted a hole in a mirror behind him. Susanna demands he swear that he will leave their families alone or she will spread rumors of the truth of what he has done. He does so and Isabella disarms Susanna. Then they all go home.
For promoting the author’s ideal that forgiveness is more powerful than vengeance Physioc could certainly have done far worse than the counterpoint between Isabella’s peacefulness over not having sought revenge and the damage and distress that came to Susanna for her attempt to get some by boasting about the wine to Obizzi. I respect Isabella’s willingness to keep turning the other cheek and Physioc sold me as well on the philosophy as he possibly could have with that set up and pay off that felt organic and obvious without feeling at all forced. That’s difficult to do and he pulled it off nicely.
Beyond that, I chuckled to myself a bit when I realized that Isabella disarmed Susanna only after Obizzi had promised to leave their families alone. She’s not willing to take revenge on him, but perhaps she’s willing to let someone else do the dirty work of getting him to leave them alone? I’m being a bit facetious, that’s not really within her character, but for a person who craves literary revenge, such as myself, it was a fun little moment to focus on.
And...that’s pretty much all that happened. This chunk of the novel represents about 10% of the book and almost nothing of consequence happened. We spent a lot of time on the relationships of the kids but it doesn’t pay off at all; I assume it will do so in the sequel. Obizzi screws with the Martellino wine and attacks Isabella again, but that’s nothing new. And Susanna maybe saw the light of Isabella’s teaching but...if her idea of behaving more like Isabella is, “Just shoot the mirror next to the guy instead of the guy” she’s got a long way to go. And, of course, she’s still pretty entrenched as a fascist, she just hates Obizzi personally.
So that’s it. That’s the book. It wasn’t perfect, obviously, but for a first attempt by a new author, I leave favorably impressed. He had solid, interesting characters. He told simple but effective stories with them. I don’t always agree with the philosophies and morals he has them espouse, but I can’t argue that they weren’t presented well. If I get an opportunity to do this again with the sequel I think I’ll look forward to it. Thank you all, one last time, for joining me on this adventure and welcome back to baseball!