(Reviewed by Bill Robinson OCT 13, 2002)
Not surprising considering the author's background, the book is highly cinematic in both structure and presentation. Vividly drawn characters and realistic dialogue move the narrative briskly forward. And, the reader can almost hear the director shout, "Cut" when one of the series of scenes that comprise an episode concludes.
Beginning initially in Puglia, a remote region of southern Italy, the story focuses on the members of one family, primarily its women. It takes the reader from the late 1920s when patriarch Lorenzo Strada purchases a crumbling farmhouse, eventually to become Casa Rossa. He is drawn by the region's rich and warm sunlight, important to him as a painter.
Lorenzo and his first wife and model, Renée, an exotic Tunisian beauty, initially make the house their summer home. For most of the year, they immerse themselves in the Paris art scene of the 1930's. They soon have a child, a girl they name Alba. However, Renée becomes smitten by a femme fatale from Nazi Germany, and she leaves her little family. Desertion and betrayal are to become strong undercurrents of the story.
Shortly after Renée departs, Lorenzo disappears for a year. The gossip is that he is taken to a Swiss clinic to recover from his loss. He returns to Puglia, in 1940, with his young daughter Alba and a new wife, a former nurse named Jeanne. The plan is that they will live there year-round and permanently.
Alba's grown daughter, Alina, tells the entire story in a series of flashbacks. When the novel opens, she is packing and preparing Casa Rossa for a final departure, her family's last move away from their ancestral home. Every room, every piece of furniture, every picture on the wall reminds her of her past. And, it is a past filled with more than a little pain.
In an interview, author Marciano described why she was drawn to this locale as a setting for her novel:
"For me, southern Italy is a place with incredible power, and as I set out to write Casa Rossa, I thought it would serve well as background for characters of a novel. I wanted the people who inhabited this novel to mirror the quality of the landscape: its beauty and power, its starkness--a feral quality. It is a land beset by poverty; to live here, one would have to have a will to survive everything."
And, reaching the end of the novel, it is plain that most of the story's characters have survived if not everything, at least a very great deal: suicide, drug addiction, infidelity, the violent Italian revolutionary movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s, love, abandonment. It is a broad canvas peopled with strong characters who live hard lives. And, Marciano presents them realistically without pity. It is difficult for the reader not to empathize.
The setting is not restricted solely to southern Italy. Alina, the book's narrator, grows up in Rome, and spends time as a young woman in New York City. Marciano brings these locales vividly to life as background for her story.
Reading Casa Rossa is much like seeing a good movie. It draws one in. It has a genuine drama that holds the attention. The story does weaken a bit toward the end when the fate of Alba's other daughter, Isabella, plays itself out in too melodramatic a manner. However, this is a minor concern.
"There is something that has been handed down from woman to woman in my family," Alina muses as she wanders around the soon to be deserted house. "I don't know how to call it. A secret, an unspoken legacy--it needs to remain concealed, it's something to be ashamed of. Its burden has shaped each of us, has twisted us into what we are today, as vines are slowly forced by wire."
Alina ponders, yet accepts that "nameless something" that crippled first her grandmother, Renée, then her mother, Alba, then both her and her sister. Casa Rossa is a story strongly fatalistic, yet rich and intense. It is cinema that captures and holds the attention from beginning to end. And, like a good film, it leaves strong and moving images guaranteed to linger long after the lights come up and the last page is turned.
- Amazon readers rating: from 11 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Casa Rossa at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- Reading Group Guide for Rules of the Wild
- Salon.com interview with Marciano on Rules of the Wild
- Click10.com review of Rules of the Wild
- Reading Group Guide for Casa Rossa
- USA Today review of Casa Rossa
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About the Author:
Francesca Marciano was born and grew up in Rome, Italy. Her grandfather was a literary figure in Italy and she grew up surrounded by interesting people and thought it only natural that she'd grow up to be a writer. Instead she dropped out of university and went to New York City for a six month film course, and ended up staying six years. While there, she worked for an Italian television network as a producer/director for a news program. Finding telling stories more interesting than news, she and a friend started writing a film script during their spare time. They raised enough money to co-direct it and it was shown at the 1983 Venice Film Festival. After that she returned to Italy to write film scripts in her own language.
Her film scripts have won awards and have been shown at Cannes and Venice. One short script won her a plane ticket, which she used to visit Africa for the first time. She fell in love, and since then has made Africa her home, on and off, ever since, but currently lives in Rome.