Cesira, a widowed Roman shopkeeper, and Rosetta, a naive teenager of beauty and devout faith. When the German army prepares to enter Rome, Cesira packs a few provisions, sews her life savings into the seams of her dress, and flees south with Rosetta to her native province of Ciociaria , a poor, mountainous region famous for providing the domestic servants of Rome. For nine months the two women endure hunger, cold, and filth as they await the arrival of the Allied forces. But the liberation, when it comes, brings unexpected tragedy.
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The novel charts the desperation of their fugitive existence and shows the devastation of war, both physically and psychologically. However, the characterisation is original and shows starkly the Alberto Moravia was, in my opinion, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. However, the characterisation is original and shows starkly the difference between the pre-war values of a simple woman and the immorality of fascism. It is ultimately a very tragic story and the final chapters are profoundly affecting.
This made it hard to read at times. My copy was a cheap, Panther reprint from the s and the design was terrible. Given the title Two Women in English, the Italian title of this novel refers to a geographical region in the hill country east of Rome. The story takes place in during the period when the Allies were moving up the Italian peninsula, retaking it from the Germans after the collapse of the Italian fascist government.
Rome at the beginning of the novel is under German occupation and life is becoming ever more dangerous and uncertain. Cesira decides to leave her shop in the care of a neighbor and flee with her daughter to her own home village in the hill country. The narrative traces their lives over a period of nine months, until at the end they return to liberated Rome.
This is in part the story of the privations, constant dangers and aggressions that the women endure, their losses and their hopelessness as well as their occasional joys, their uncertainties and the people they encounter and with whom they live at various times. It is an honest and at times searing book, filled with hopes and anguish, violence and uncertainty, simple joys as well as interpersonal disappointments. I often felt stunned reading it, and at the end I felt surprisingly peaceful.
The book is deep and thought-provoking, sensitive and real, and it finds hope in the midst of terrible circumstances. A movie based on the book and starring Sophia Loren was made a number of decades ago, and I would like to see it.
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