Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli’s ambitious debut novel, La Brigantessa has already garnered awards and nominations, such as the Winner of the IPPY Gold Medal for Historical Fiction and Finalist for the 2019 Fred Kerner Book Award. No doubt more recognition will come (best cover art?) for her and La Brigantessa. Update: La Brigantessa’s cover did win an award! See: https://miramichireader.ca/2019/09/2019-very-best-book-awards/
The historical background of this engrossing book is General Garibaldi’s campaign against Rome that led to his wounding and imprisonment after being defeated in the Calabrian mountains of the Aspromonte in 1862. The small peasant village of Camini is where we find our heroine, Gabriella Falcone and her admirer, Tonino. The church lands have just been acquired by a wealthy landowner from the north, Alfonso Fantin, a lecherous and immoral man into whose hands the future of the peasants now lies. Upon arriving in Camini to inspect his latest purchase, he is immediately attracted to Gabriella and has set his eyes on her with bad intent. What transpires next is getting into spoiler territory, but it results in Gabriella and the priest Don Simone fleeing Camini and soon falling into the band of brigands headed by Stefano Galante. Stefano, like all the brigands in the Aspromonte, all have a reason for evading the law, and Stefano is no different. The question remains: what will he do with the two captured villagers, one a priest, the other a beautiful peasant girl? Will Gabriella become a brigantessa to stay alive? Will she ever see Tonino again, who has joined Garibaldi’s “red shirt” army?
La Brigantessa is a novel that fans of the historical fiction genre will definitely enjoy. It contains adventure, suspense, murder, and battle scenes that fill the 300 + pages of this book. However, I found, at times, the details detracted from the story and I glossed over them to get to the next scene. Some things have to be left to the reader’s imagination! The true strengths of this book lie in the descriptions of Italian peasant life at the time and the wilderness of the Calabrian mountains, where bands of brigands lied in wait to pillage and plunder from wealthy travellers along the rugged paths and trails of the Aspromonte.
I was conflicted as to what to rate this book at Goodreads. I would easily give it four stars for the historical side of the tale, but three stars for what I believe is a too-protracted narrative. Thus, I settled on a “solid” three stars. I do hope that there may be a sequel; for the ending leaves the way open for one. ‘Nuff said! I am adding La Brigantessa to the 2019 longlist in the First Book category for a “The Very Best!” Book Award. Bravo, Signora Battigelli!
“This is a beautiful novel, one that vividly recreates the heartbreak and drama of one of the most turbulent periods in Italian history.” —Nino Ricci, award-winning author of The Origins of Species, Testament, and Sleep.
La Brigantessa by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli
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