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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

ARC Review: The Madonna of the Mountains by Elise Valmorbida

Please Note:  I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A sweeping saga about womanhood, loyalty, war, religion, family, motherhood, and marriage, The Madonna of the Mountains is set in Italy during the 1920s to the 1950s, and follows its heroine, Maria Vittoria, from her girlhood in the austere Italian mountains through her marriage to a young war veteran to the birth of her four children, through the National Fascist Party Rule and ending with a decision that will forever affect her family. Maria must ensure that her family survives the harsh winters of the war, when food is scarce and allegiances are questioned. She can trust no one and fears everyone--her Fascist cousin, the madwoman from her childhood, her watchful neighbors, the Nazis and the Partisans who show up at her door. Over the decades, as Maria's children grow up and away from her, and as her marriage endures its own hardships, the novel takes us into the mind and heart of one woman who must hold her family together with resilience, love, and faith, in a world where the rules are constantly changing.

The Madonna of The Mountains is a richly drawn portrait of life from the 1920's to the 1950's.  

What I Liked:
Historical Details:
I loved all the details the author used to describe life at that time, from the type of food people ate, all the way down to the texture of clothing.  I felt immersed in this era and how it might have been like to live in these characters lives.


Although the main character of the novel, Maria, was hard to like, she was definitely a product of the times she lived in.  Maria was raised to believe women were in need of guidance from men, were less valued then men.  This led her to be complacent as her father chooses her husband, never questioning the expectation that she would marry a stranger.  This passivity continued throughout her life.  Men used her, abused her, and blamed her when something went wrong.  Some of this was hard to read.  But I could understand that she was raised in a society that didn't value women, so she didn't feel like she ever could have needs, and wants for herself.

Maria's daughter, Amelia, was a very different person.  She was also raised with this deep oppression.  But Amelia saw the injustice of it and was defiant.  This, of course, created huge conflicts between Amelia and her mother.  Old values versus new ones, an age-old battle!  

The role of food in this book went well beyond some mouth-watering descriptions.  Food, and its meaning in the characters lives, was used to illustrate the state of the village, the Italian economy, the way a mother shows her love for her family, and so much more.  There were also many authentic period recipes at the end of the book helped the reader to be immersed in the era.

What I Was Mixed About:
Story Pacing: 
It took a while for the action to start up, with the first 20% of this book showing what everyday life would have been like.  While this was fascinating, it did make for a slow beginning.  I felt that Maria wasn't evolving in any way.  But that changed with the onslaught of WWII.  

Then Maria had to use all her strength to keep her family alive during tremendous hardships.  The choices she made were questionable, but showed how much she loved her family.  The guilt she felt manifested in her internalized dialogue with her devotional statue, The Madonna of the Mountains. 

The book finished strong as the war's survivors pick up the pieces of their lives. 

Trigger Warning for Domestic Violence


Release Date:  June 12th, 2018

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Author:  Elise Valmorbida

Publisher:  Spiegel & Grau

Page Length: 368 Pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  E-Book

Recommendation:  A detailed look at Italy before and during WWII.  This will appeal to lovers of historical fiction. 

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2019 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 10 books toward her goal of 120 books.


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