Thoughts on reading, writing, travels, and all things Italian

In the Shadow of the Apennines

In the Shadow of the Apennines

The sleepy little Abruzzo mountain town of Marsicano seems about as far as Samantha can flee from her failed marriage and disastrous university career. Although she envisions the picturesque but run-down cottage she buys as the ideal place to begin life again as a writer, reality soon interferes with her romantic imaginings.

Samantha discovers that geographical distance alone isn’t enough to escape the mistakes of her past. Committing words to a page proves more challenging than she’d imagined and her attempts at breaking into the closed mountain community are quickly thwarted when the residents discover Samantha’s snarky blog ridiculing the town and its inhabitants.

Increasingly isolated in her mountain cottage, Samantha discovers the letters and diaries of Elena, a past tenant and a survivor of the devastating 1915 Pescina earthquake. Despite the century that separates the two women, Samantha feels increasingly drawn into Elena’s extraordinary life and discovers startling parallels that allow her to better understand her own.

Why I wrote it: I am often out in this beautiful region, so close to Rome, yet such a world apart. My husband and I have a little home out there that’s often a pleasant refuge from the chaos of Rome. The pace is slower in the mountains, the distractions of city life so distant.

So many of the historical centers of the old towns in Abruzzo don’t seem to have changed much since the medieval era in which they were built. I always love exploring their narrow, cobblestone streets and wondering about the people who called these towns home over generations.

I was saddened by the 2009 earthquake that struck the beautiful medieval city of L’Aquila, killing almost 300 people, leaving tens of thousands homeless and destroying the historical city.

Although I had heard of the famous 1915 earthquake, I began reading more about it following the recent Abruzzo earthquake and I was curious to see the town most associated with that deadly quake – Pescina.

When I first visited Pescina, I was struck by the quiet beauty of the town and its homes that are still half-destroyed from the quake that struck in the early morning hours of January 13,1915.

I visited on a  perfect summer day, with the cicadas chanting and stray cats wandering through the ruins of the homes.

I visited Ignazio Silone’s tomb, set out just as the writer requested it, with a stunning view over the Fucino and a story began taking shape in my mind about the lives of a simple peasant girl from Pescina and a damaged, modern American woman seeking out a new life in Abruzzo.

I’ve enjoyed bringing to life these two women, separated by a century and vastly different circumstances, and describing their lives in the mountains of Abruzzo.

My characters have become so real to me that if I squint my eyes while looking up at the ruined castle watchtower in Pescina, I can’t help but think I can see young Elena scrambling across the rocks with her sheep.

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