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Reader Reviewed
The Madonna of The Mountains by Elise Valmorbida

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March 2018 Book of the Month

“To believe, to obey, to fight” is the new prayer of Mussolini’s Italy in 1936. We are in Fosso, a town in the rural district of Veneto on the fertile plains where food is plentiful until the Germans and then the partisans help themselves. Maria, our protagonist, helps run the local grocer with her husband Achille, until he is imprisoned for black-marketeering. She needs to keep her family of 5 children alive and safe until her husband is released… or not. She will do anything to protect and fight for her children, anything to keep them safe, fed and alive. Coming from a large family herself she is not afraid of hard work. So we live with her through the war to the 1950s, through times of dreadful hardship and fear to new beginnings. Laced with the feel of Italy, its food, traditions and scenic splendour, this is a very fine novel indeed. Stylish and beautifully archaic in its writing, it has a hypnotic quality, difficult to draw yourself away from. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can click here to read the full reviews.

  • Kathy Howell - 'I have enjoyed reading this book and found myself interested in the characters and their stories.'
  • Lynette McCann - 'An inspiring novel about survival during hard times in Italy during the war and one woman's determination to raise her family as well as she could. A totally riveting novel.'
  • Rachel Aygin - 'The moment I read the first paragraph, I knew I was going to enjoy reading this book.'
  • Pauline Braisher - 'A lovely, well-written book, set in rural Italy, beginning just after the first world war. It's Maria's story but it's also the story of Italy and how, in the end, there is hope for both.'
  • Sarah Jones - 'A rich, involving, love story of life in Fascist Italy for one woman and her family.'
  • Melanie Chadwick - 'Paints a vivid portrait of life in rural Italy under Mussolini.'
  • Susan Coleman - 'A moving and remarkable story about the life and courage shown by a woman and her family living through the Fascist era.'
  • Evelyn Love-Gajardo - 'A gripping story of one woman's struggle to  survive in Fascist-era Italy.'
  • Nicola Edwards - 'A fantastic insight into family life during the second world war in Italy, a very enjoyable book.'
  • Lynne Rapson - 'An inspirational novel telling of a woman's struggle for the survival of her family in Italy during the interwar years, the rise of Fascism, World War 2 and beyond.'
  • Catherine Jenkins - 'This book taught me much about Fascist Italy, loyalties, family, friendships and - of course! - food. A feast for the senses!'
  • Les Wood - 'The story of a woman’s struggle to hold herself and her family together in war-torn Italy and an oppressive culture of patriarchy and catholicism.'
  • Edel Waugh - 'This was a gorgeous story set in a beautiful place, a must read for those interested in books set during war time in Europe.'


The Madonna of The Mountains by Elise Valmorbida

1923 Maria Vittoria is embroidering a sheet for her dowry trunk. Her father has gone to find her a husband. He's taken his mule, a photograph and a pack of food: home-made sopressa sausage, cold polenta, a little flask of wine - no need to take water - the world is full of water. There are no eligible men in this valley or the next one, and her father will not let her marry just anyone, and now, despite Maria's years, she is still healthy. Her betrothed will see all that. He'll be looking for a woman who can do the work. Maria can do the work. Everyone in the contra says that. And the Lord knows Maria will need to be able to work. Fascism blooms as crops ripen, the state craves babies just as the babies cry for food. Maria faces a stony path, but one she will surely climb to the summit. In this sumptuous and elegant novel you will taste the bigoli co l'arna, touch the mulberry leaves cut finer than organdie, and feel the strain of one woman attempting to keep her family safe in the most dangerous of times.

About the Author

Elise Valmorbida grew up Italian in Australia, but fell in love with London. She's a designer, writer and teacher of creative writing. In recent years, she produced a feature film. Her fiction includes Matilde Waltzing, The TV President and The Winding Stick. Her non-fiction includes SAXON - The Making of a Guerrilla Film, and The Book of Happy Endings, now published in four languages and four continents.

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Book Info

Publication date

29th March 2018


Elise Valmorbida

More books by Elise Valmorbida
Author 'Like for Like'


Faber & Faber


384 pages


Relationship Stories
Family Drama
Reading Groups

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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