About the Book:
Italy, 1937. In a tiny village in rural Lombardy, Graziella Ponti is born into a loving family.
Though they are not rich and life is full of challenges, they are content and safe, surrounded by the tightly-knit community of Pieve Santa Clara.
But when the shadow of World War Two falls across the village with the arrival of Nazi soldiers, nothing in young Graziella’s life will ever be the same again.
Paradiso is Graziella’s story. It charts her loves, losses and triumphs as she grows up in post-war Italy, a country in transformation, freed from the shackles of dictatorship yet still gripped by the restraints of the Catholic church.
Paradiso is inspired by true stories told to Francesca Scanacapra by her Italian family and set in locations where she spent much of her childhood. It is a deeply affecting novel which sheds light on the complexity and trauma of Italy’s past and weaves it into the epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live in extraordinary times.
This stunning historical read is perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries, Rhys Bowen, Victoria Hislop, Angela Petch and Heather Morris.
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About the Author:
Francesca Scanacapra was born in Italy to an English mother and Italian father, and her childhood was spent living between England and Italy. Her adult life has been somewhat nomadic and she has pursued an eclectic mixture of career paths, including working as a technical translator between Italian, English, Spanish and French, a gym owner in Spain, an estate agent in France, a property developer in France and Senegal, and a teacher. Francesca lives in Dorset and currently works as a builder with her husband. She has two children.
Although Paradiso and its sequel, Return to Paradiso, are fictional stories, embedded within them are versions of true events. This extract is inspired by one such event which occurred before WW2, when a train transporting tobacco derailed just outside my grandfather’s village in Lombardy, Italy. My grandfather, along with most of the men and boys from the village, scrambled to salvage what they could. Unfortunately my grandfather was arrested for looting. His father was furious, not because his son had been arrested, but because he didn’t get any free tobacco.
In this extract it is 1946 and the event takes place on the outskirts of the tiny rural village of Pieve Santa Clara in Lombardy. Paradiso’s main character, Graziella Ponti, aged nine, is awoken early under unusual circumstances.
Taken from Chapter 9:
The day before we were due to return to Cascina Marchesini I awoke to the sound of loud, excited chatter in the yard outside. I knew it was very early as the dawn chorus was in full voice and the light glinting through the gaps in the shutters was dim. There was a strong burning smell in the air. My mother was not in bed. Most mornings I was aware of her getting up. I would roll over into the imprint of her body and burrow into the warmth, but that morning when I reached across, the dent left by her body was cold. I sat up, trying to discern the conversations being had outside.
I found my mother, my father and my aunt in the yard, still in their nightshirts. Pozzetti, Salvatore and several men from the village had gathered around them. The burning smell was intense.
‘What’s happened?’ I asked.
‘A train has come off the tracks,’ my aunt explained, ‘and it’s on fire.’
A freight train carrying tobacco had been ambushed just outside Mazzolo. One of the robbers had fired a shot to scare the driver, and a spark from the bullet had set the cargo, which was by definition highly flammable, alight. Nobody had been hurt, but the train had derailed.
News of the calamity had spread as quickly as the thick cloud of smoke, and within the hour men and boys from all the adjoining villages had raced to salvage what they could. Pozzetti set off on his bicycle with his trailer piled high with sacks and boxes.
I don’t believe I had ever seen a policeman in the village before that day, but suddenly they were everywhere. I stood by the gate with my father and Salvatore, watching as police bicycles, motorcycles and other vehicles streamed back and forth. It was not long before we had news that there had been arrests, not of the robbers who had held up the train, but of local men and boys who had gone to loot it.
My mother said she was glad my father was not able to go. Ada Pozzetti, who had also heard news of the arrests, was tight-lipped. She stood in our yard, balancing a baby on her hip, and said that if her husband was arrested, she would skin him alive.
Pozzetti returned later that morning. Fortunately, he had not been caught. With him, he brought a bag of tobacco for my father: it was a kind gift, albeit an impractical one as Papá did not smoke.
‘We can sell it,’ said my mother.
‘And who do you think will buy it?’ my father replied. ‘Everyone has sacks of the stuff now. The whole region will be smoking for free for years.’
‘So what are you going to do with it?’
‘I’m going to smoke it myself.’
‘But you don’t smoke.’
‘Only because we can’t afford it. It’s not because I don’t want to.’
‘It’s a wretched habit and it can’t be good for you. People who smoke get coughs.’
‘My dear, considering everything else I have to deal with, a little cough is not going to bother me. Anyway, it only causes a cough because it clears the lungs.’
‘Well, you’ll have to smoke outside. I don’t want you stinking out the house with it, especially with all those fine Marchesini linens in there.’
And so my father was exiled to a bench outside my aunt’s kitchen. I watched as he sat in a grey cloud, spluttering and spitting, alternating between drags of his inexpertly-rolled cigarettes and sips of medicine. My mother locked the door and would not let him in until he stripped off outside and hung his clothes in a tree, where they remained all night.