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Publishers Weekly: "It’s easy to succumb to the charm of this thoroughly Italian historical romance."

Date: Oct 31 2011

The Nun

Simonetta Agnello Hornby, trans. from the Italian by Antony Shugaar. Europa (Consortium, dist.), $15 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-60945-062-5

Agata Padellani, the rebellious daughter of a poor Neapolitan officer from an aristocratic family and his Sicilian wife, is forced to become a nun at age 16, her defiant spirit as resilient as the burgeoning Italian unification movement. Hornby (The Almond Picker) sets her novel in 19th century Italy, beginning in Messina in 1839, as the feast of the Assumption is celebrated at the Padellanis with a solemn procession and a lavish open house, during which Agata sneaks out to rendezvous with her inamorata whose family has other ideas about who he’ll wed. This stolen moment quickly becomes a mere memory when Agata’s father dies and the family decamps to Naples to appeal to relatives and the king. Instead they are reduced to “poor relations,” and Agata’s mother arranges for Agata to enter a Benedictine convent. Reluctant at first, she eventually finds solace reading novels supplied by the handsome English captain she met on the voyage from Messina, hiding her brother-in-law’s revolutionary materials, baking bread, and working as an herbalist and healer, but she also longs for the outside world and freedom from corrupt church politics. Hornby enriches her story with sensuous details of food, fashion, furnishings, and the rules of an extravagant society, savoring local color and personality quirks. Her language is so lush, her heroine so determined, and the landscape she paints so inviting, that it’s easy to overlook some heated language “quivering with passion for the Italian cause” and to succumb to the charm of this thoroughly Italian historical romance. (Jan.)

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