There’s a surprising amount of depth and meaning in this slim novel, that builds slowly and quietly through each of its 12 chapters. The story is set in a remote region of the Austrian alps, and told in the voices of women from 1909 to 1977, who managed life, love, and family on their rural homestead.
Life was hard: subsistence farming, few “modern conveniences,” limited educational opportunities, and a clear but restrictive definition of a woman’s role. Most women made do and were happy; some worked hard to escape. In the opening chapter, Anna, a young mother, receives a mysterious postcard which appears to be from a long lost lover. The post-mistress makes sure everyone knows about it, causing much gossip. Anna imagines the writer and his lifestyle and composes an elaborate reply, which she later abbreviated to a simple acknowledgement and apology, because his card has been misdirected. As this unfolds, the reader is also introduced to Anna’s husband and children, characters who will figure prominently in later chapters.
In a rural area such as this, everyone seems to be related to everyone else. Thankfully Rosina Lippi included clan charts showing the genealogy of each homestead. While careful study of these while reading reveals small spoilers, I found them invaluable to keep track of generations and relationships.
Every one of these women was amazing, in their capacity for physical labor, and their commitment to families and to one another. Each chapter reveals details about those who came before, some of which were closely guarded family secrets. This provided the depth I mentioned before, and usually sent me off to re-read earlier chapters, taking new facts into account. When I reached the end, I felt like I had an incredibly rich tapestry in my hands, and I stood back to admire Lippi’s achievement.