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The Marchesa    by Simonetta Agnello Hornby order for
by Simonetta Agnello Hornby
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2008 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The reader, on opening the first pages of The Marchesa, enters the world of the Safamita family at the same time as the Baron Domenico Safamita's second child is born. Constanza is a healthy baby with bright red hair - out of place in a Sicilian household in 1898.

After many still births and miscarriages, why doesn't the Marchesa Samafita dote on her darling baby? Instead she hands Constanza over to the care of a wet nurse, Amalia. Through three generations, the Safamita family, part of the wealthy aristocracy, live their lives as gentry. Their clothing, cuisine, culture is explored to give a realistic view of the life and times of those living in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Sicily.

The poor are not ignored in this gripping family saga. They exist to care for and wait upon those in power those with the money. I know poverty exists in the world today in too great numbers. But without any creature comforts, life must have been very grim, indeed. Apart from the living conditions, families in The Marchesa have to contend with the social mores of the day. Marrying below your station in life could result in almost complete shunning by both family and society. Unfortunately for Constanza's brother, he learns the hard way that there is no forgiveness for going against tradition.

The Marchesa takes us through three generations of the Safamita family with all their triumphs, foibles, disastrous mistakes, love, and downright meanness. We suffer with them as they bow to tradition as well as engaging in extramarital affairs. The Marchesa is a thoroughly captivating novel that will keep readers up at night and leave them sorry to part from the family at the end.

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