A crumbling farmhouse in Puglia, Casa Rossa was bought by Alina Strada's grandfather at a time when no one else wanted it. Now busy preparing it for sale, Alina endeavors to recover the memories it still harbors--in particular of three women whose passions indelibly shaped her family's dark past. There's grandmother Renee, whose love of novelty won over everything else. Alina's mother, Alba, whose marriage to a screenwriter inspired both great art and unbearable sadness. Finally Isabella, Alina's sister, whose fervent politics drove her to ever-escalating betrayals. Moving from Jazz Age Paris to 1950s Rome to modern-day New York, but returning always to the uncompromising beauty of Italy's south, Casa Rossa is a spellbinding story of how loves and losses, secrets and lies, resonate across the generations.
In this passionate tale of three generations of one 20th-century Italian family, Marciano brings Southern Italy as boldy to life as she did Kenya in her first novel, the well-received Rules of the Wild (1998). As Alina Strada prepares to sell the family farmhouse in Puglia, she reflects on the tumultuous past, beginning with the purchase and restoration of the crumbling farmhouse before WWII by her grandfather, Lorenzo, a moderately successful portrait painter. When Lorenzo's Tunisian wife and model, Renee, runs off with a German woman, he takes revenge by painting a huge nude of Renee on the inner patio wall. After a brief nervous breakdown, he marries his nurse, Jeanne, who immediately has the white stone house, so typical of the region, painted red-hence the name Casa Rossa-and the nude mural covered up. Lorenzo's daughter, Alba, has two daughters, Alina and Isabella, by her dashing husband, Oliviero, who leaves a murky legacy after his early demise. As the girls mature and governments come and go in postwar Italy, Alina has a brush with drugs, while her less fortunate sister, Isabella, joins a group of terrorists. Alina works for a time with a Fellini-esque filmmaker before moving to New York, where she gets a job at an art gallery and falls in love with an American. Alina's perspective on 1980s New York nicely complements her American boyfriend's subsequent view of Italy. The intricate complications may challenge belief, but the author imperturbably weaves them together into a glamorous, romantic whole.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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October 13, 2003
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Excerpt from Casa Rossa by Francesca Marciano
When we were small, my sister Isabella and I used to wonder whether Alba had murdered our father.
Murdered him, and then made up the suicide story.
We'd be in the kitchen, hunting for food, two skinny girls, ten and twelve. Murdered. We'd let that possibility hang in the air, to see if anything crashed or shattered, but nothing ever moved. The house remained perfectly still.
"Who knows, anyway," we'd say, to finish it off. We didn't really want to know. If she had done it, eventually they would come and lock her up.
It was bad enough, what had happened already. Dad vanishing, like a card in a trick.
We'd hear the keys in the door. She'd come in smiling, wearing her green dress and sandals, her arms full of groceries.
There she was: Alba. Our mother. The Murderer.
"Want a prosciutto sandwich, darlings?"
When we were that small, things shifted proportions all the time: the really dangerous stuff shrunk, curled up in a ball so that we could juggle it, study it closely, let it drop from our hands the minute it began to bother us.
It was a silent agreement between my sister and me. To move on, to survive.
To eat that sandwich.
Careful now. Watch what you do.
You keep staring at the living room, you don't think you can fol- low this task. It feels like sacrilege to alter its order, like rummaging a temple.
How long has this dark red armchair been sitting across from the threadbare sofa, right next to the painted lampshade? How many years has the faded rug sat on these stone tiles? Renee's portrait hung on the wall? The opaline vase stood on the mantelpiece?
My grandfather bought this house in the late twenties. It was a crumbling farmhouse then, nobody wanted it. My mother grew up here. My sister and I did, too.
Casa Rossa has been my family house for over seventy years.
I know its smell like I know the smell of cut grass. Its map is imprinted in me, I can walk it blindfolded.
Why did I think these objects would stay like this forever and that I could always come back, find the chair and the sofa and the rug and the painting in their place? That way I assumed I could always reenact all the different moments that shaped our story. Like the day when Renee was sitting for my grandfather on the wicker chair and, as he was painting another one of her portraits, she told him about Muriel. The summer day Oliviero came for lunch and sat outside on the patio under the trellis and fell in love with my mother. The times my sister lay awake at night, wrapped in her hatred, fearing every noise. Or the night I took Daniel Moore in here for the first time. I opened the door and showed him this room. This rug, this faded sofa, that yellowing lampshade. The room smelled of firewood. "This is it," I said.
I hoped it would stay like this forever, so that, by coming back and finding everything still arranged exactly as I had left it, I would believe I had secured my history in a safe place. Inside a shrine, where nothing would get lost. Just as prayers are never lost in a church. One can always go back and light another candle.
As I walk across the ground floor of Casa Rossa, as I move from the large kitchen into the living room, then through the big wooden door into my grandfather's studio, I look around, I count my steps, I mark my territory as if it's the last time I will ever do this. And, guess what. It is.
I talk out loud to myself-like I always do when I'm scared. Careful now, watch what you do. Everything, from now on, will be final and surprisingly quick.
The movers will arrive and wait for me to give them a sign. Then they will heft the table, then the sofa, they will roll up the rug and take down the painting. They will wrap the furniture in blankets and tie it with rope. They will blindfold and choke the familiar shapes and will pile them up one on top of the other in the truck. An armrest will show from under the blanket. The stain on its faded fabric will look pathetic. The scratches on the table legs, the pale circle a cup had once left on its top: all these familiar marks will look spooky now, like scars. One didn't notice them so much before. But it will be impossible to look at them now without shame. You will have to admit that these things have turned into what they have always been but which you always refused to see: a pile of sad, old junk.
Once every single piece of furniture and every single box are loaded onto the truck, this house, stripped bare in a single morning, will go back to being mute. A white canvas, where someone else will write their story.
That's how fast our memories disintegrate.
I've been procrastinating about calling the movers, of course. Who wouldn't? It's like phoning in your own death sentence and prodding the executioner.