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The Madonna of The Mountains Reader Reviews

The Madonna of The Mountains

Kathy Howell

I have enjoyed reading this book and found myself interested in the characters and their stories.

Set in Italy, the story begins as Maria’s father has left the family home to find a husband for Maria. Her father brings back Achille, an attractive man with scars that prove he is a hero, who has plans to emigrate to America.

Their family begins to grow they buy a village store and set up their business. Maria finds she has great skills in this area and they are successful. The Fascist dictatorship begins to have damaging effects on their business and family and Achille is imprisoned as a black marketeer. Maria has to use all her skills to keep the family together and their business on track. She is willing to do anything to get her husband released. The war years and the hardships they face are well described and the reader feels the elation at the end of the war.

After the war the family begins to prosper again. Amelia, their eldest daughter, elopes to marry the man she loves, leaving Maria feeling rejected and angry. They are reconciled, however, before the Maria and her family emigrate to Australia to begin a new life.

Throughout her life Maria prays and listens to the Madonna that she brings with her on her marriage the Madonna of the Mountains.


Nicola Edwards

A fantastic insight into family life during the second world war in Italy, a very enjoyable book.

This book is set in Italy, before and during the Second World War and tells the story of Maria and her life in the mountains of the Italian countryside. The story starts with a twenty five year old Maria who is waiting for her father to return from his mission to the local villages to find her a husband as she is nearly at an ‘unmarriageable age’. With few men around, it has been a hard task for her father, but on this latest trip he returns with a man that he deems is suitable for Maria.

Life begins for Maria and Achille (her husband) and with the war taking hold it is a hard life; they encounter hunger, imprisonment and violence. The character of Maria really grows and you see her change from an innocent young lady to the matriarch of her family dealing with many pressures along the way.

Although this isn’t a book that I would normally pick up, the author did a fantastic job of characterisation and overall really enjoyed it.

Rachel Aygin

The moment I read the first paragraph, I knew I was going to enjoy reading this book.

The writing style brought to mind Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The story is set in Italy and begins in 1923 with Maria Vittoria’s father setting out to find her a husband. At 25 Maria is thought of as old to be unmarried but a suitable match has not been found. We find out all about Italian village life and the local inhabitants. Then Maria’s father is seen walking back towards the village with an unknown man at his side. Will he turn out to be Maria’s future husband?

The story continues through the lives and loves of Maria and her family right until 1950 and describes how Italian villagers coped with shortages and living under the fascists during the war. At the back of the book are some Italian wartime recipes, including some recipes for torture (!). An enchanting tale from a writer I’ll be putting on my reading list.


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.

This is a lovely, gentle book. It's beautifully written and very descriptive. It's the story of Maria, told over a 30 year period starting not long after the First World War, and set in the Italian countryside. Maria is deeply religious and has a strong sense of right and wrong. Her life revolves around doing right by her family, initially her parents, then her husband and finally her children. Sadly, Maria is often not their priority so her needs always come second to those of others and she has to make many sacrifices to keep herself and her family safe, although the reader may not always agree with the choices she makes. It's a very patriarchal society but by the end of the book, the reader senses that maybe change is coming, albeit slowly. And by the end of the book, Maria has won some small victories and is filled with hope.

Sarah Jones

A rich, involving, love story of life in Fascist Italy for one woman and her family.

Maria longs to be married and prays to the Virgin Mary, via a statue of the Madonna of the Mountains, for her hopes and dreams to come true. Her mother gives her the statue as a wedding gift and it accompanies Maria throughout her life as Fascism takes a hold in Italy and everyone's lives change.

This had a bit of a slow start but then Maria's life began to draw me in and I was engrossed. She was a very sympathetic character and whilst I didn't always agree with what she did, I could understand her motives and her way of living and coping. A good set of supporting characters and a fascinating insight into Italy at that time. Well worth taking the time to fully get into it and become engrossed!


Melanie Chadwick

Paints a vivid portrait of life in rural Italy under Mussolini.

We first meet Maria Vittoria in 1923 as she waits to meet the husband her father has found for her.  The book follows her life’s work to build prosperity and safety for her family.  Her family fortunes wax and wane with national events; she faces hard decisions as she struggles to feed her family and keep it safe.  I loved Maria Vittoria’s immense strength; physical and emotional strength and her completely focused strength of purpose through dangerous times. I also loved the straightforward, simple style in which it is written.  Insights into Maria’s personal thoughts and emotions come through in her conversations with her Madonna of the Mountains statue.  She is a product of her time; she knows her place and function as the wife and mother of the family, and lives within the constraints imposed by the catholic society in which she lives.  Despite the immense changes brought by war, changes in her own small sphere are very slow and hard won.

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.

A strange book that I expected not to enjoy but it was riveting from start to end. It is the story of a girl who lived in the mountains in the north of Italy and her hard life growing up from the 1920s to 1950, at a time when women were oppressed and life was hard for everyone. Marie Vittoria was determined to protect and care for her family, through good and bad times though in today's world there were no good times, just toil and drudgery.

 She raises her 4 live children while trusting no-one and has to make many harsh decisions during the war, so that her family might survive. She lives through many changes during the war, with the fascists and the Nazis taking control of her life, but determined to survive and thrive, she rules the family with a rod of iron, while favouring the boy children rather than the girls. Disaster strikes the family and life changes for them. Marie Vittoria has to then think about her life and how she raised her family, with her faith at the core of everything.

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.

This beautiful story takes place in Italy from the 1920’s and centers around a female character called  Maria and all of her family. 

The story begins with her as a young woman and starting her adult life, getting married, starting a family etc, then we see her life during war time and all the ups and downs her life and family face at that hard time. 

This was a gorgeous story set in a beautiful place, it was dreamy reading about the place she lived. 

I loved how strong Maria was, and how smart. Caring for her young family during a time of political upheavals was hard but she was really the backbone of her family, they relied heavily on her and she made the best of it. A must read for those interested in books set during war time in Europe.


Susan Coleman

A moving and remarkable story about the life and courage shown by a woman and her family living through the Fascist era.

This is both a compelling story and an interesting social history. The book begins in 1923 with an arranged marriage being planned for the main character, Maria Vittoria, and shows her daily routines before the start of the Second World War and the rise of Fascism. The story skips forward to different years to show how Maria's life is evolving and how she copes with the many challenges that she faces both in her marriage and because of the dangers facing her and her family during the war. She takes comfort and strength from praying to, and hearing the voice of, the 'Madonna of The Mountains'.

I really admired Maria's bravery and her pragmatic approach to life and felt that I 'was walking in her shoes', willing her on to find happiness in difficult times. I also found it interesting to note how very different life was just 100 years ago in terms of both social customs and daily life.

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.

The story opens with Maria's father going to find her a husband. He returns with Achille, a surviving soldier from the Great War - a strong, heroic and handsome man. It is a difficult time for Italy. The war has caused hardship and poverty, but Achille and Maria work hard and open a village store to provide for their growing family. The years bring very tough times but strength and hard work pay off. Then comes Fascism and World War 2, leading to fear, violence and desperation. Throughout it all, Maria's toughness keeps things together even when Achille is denounced and imprisoned for black marketeering. She has hard decisions and sacrifices to make but the family all survive. Maria never gives up with her only source of comfort being her statue of the Madonna of the Mountains - her sole confidante in a very restricted life as a woman. A well written book containing much sadness but also hope. There is much to learn from this elegant novel.

Catherine Jenkins

This book taught me much about Fascist Italy, loyalties, family, friendships and - of course! - food. A feast for the senses!

I loved the visceral, vivid descriptions in this book, which transported me to the eponymous mountains of Fascist Italy. Reading this book when hungry will have you drooling at the depictions of sopressa sausage and sugared sweetmeats - there's even an appendix of recipes collected at the back of the book! 

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.

Maria Vittoria, at the start of the book, which ranges from 1923 to the 1950s, is an almost on-the-shelf young catholic woman, living in rural Northern Italy with her family.  Her father finds her a husband and the book takes Maria, and her ever growing family through WWI, the rise of Mussolini and the fascist regime and WWII and its aftermath, involving partisans, Nazi occupation, cruelty, poverty, neighbourly betrayal, family feuds, distrust and supreme struggle.

The book portrays the life of a woman under the strict cultures of Catholicism and Italian family culture at that time; a patriarchal society where Maria, and soon her daughters, are expected to bow to the wishes and superior rights of the men in their lives - Maria’s father, her abusive husband and then finally her eldest son who eventually begins to flex his muscles and vie for family supremacy against his father who is weakened by his imprisonment by the Fascists for black marketeering in the family shop.

Maria’s catholic faith never wavers and she prays constantly to her statue of the Madonna who seemingly dispenses advice throughout the book. 

The family mantra is “trust no-one”, no doubt a sensible precaution during those terrible times, but the distrust and protective isolation didn’t, for me, make for many likeable characters.  Maria was probably a product of the times and culture, but I never found myself particularly warming to her.  On the one hand she could be seen as strong for holding the family together in such harsh times,  but I detected little softness or humanity and find it difficult to care what happens to a character when I don’t identify or understand their actions.

Evelyn Love-Gajardo

A gripping story of one woman's struggle to survive in Fascist -era Italy.

This is a story of one woman's struggle to survive in the harshest of times, as it covers the period of Fascist rule in Italy from 1923 to the end of the Second World War and the repercussions afterwards. 

 We follow Maria, the main character, through the time when she first marries her husband Achille, has her family and lives through the war years when Achille is imprisoned for black marketeering.

The author describes the countryside, food and way of life in rural Italy in great detail. The characters are very realistic, all flawed to an extent, but entirely believable. The harshness of the time is conveyed and although we may not agree with the behaviour of some of the characters, it's made understandable by the circumstances.

I enjoyed the book very much and would recommend it. I wonder if there will be a sequel?

Book Information

ISBN: 9780571336326
Publication date: 29th March 2018
Author: Elise Valmorbida
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Format: Hardback
Pagination: 384 pages
Genres: Book Club Recommendations, Reader Reviewed Books, eBook Favourites, Family Drama, Relationship Stories,
Categories: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945),