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The first novel in a trilogy set on the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century. A young woman seeks the truth behind her father's disappearance
Every year, Augusto De Boer undertakes a treacherous journey through the Italian Alps, smuggling his family's tobacco across the border to Austria. With conditions getting harsher, he decides to take his fifteen-year-old daughter Jole along with him, teaching her how to navigate the perilous crags and valleys while avoiding the nocturnal beasts and hostile customs officers.
Three years later, Jole must retrace their steps alone: her father has not returned from the border. With only her horse for company, she makes her way across the starkly beautiful mountain landscape, hoping to provide sustenance for her family and discover the truth about her father's disappearance.
Bursting with hope and depair, Soul of the Border is a lyrical coming-of-age story about revenge, salvation, and a ferocious journey into the wild.
Matteo Righetto lives and works in Padua, at the border of the wilderness of north-eastern Italy. Many of his works take place in beautiful mountain landscapes that he knows deeply, having visited them since childhood backpacking with his father. Soul of the Border has become a literary success and was sold in several countries before its publication in Italy. The second title in the trilogy will be published by Pushkin Press in 2019.
Italian writer Righetto's first book to be translated into English delivers an intense yet uneven account of 18-year-old Jole's efforts to take over her father Augusto's long-standing tobacco-smuggling business after his mysterious disappearance and presumed death. Set in the late 19th century and unfolding in three parts, the narrative chronicles Jole's arduous three-day journey from Nevada, a small, poverty-stricken village in the Italian countryside, through the Brenta Valley, over the rugged mountains, and across the Austrian border, ending in a mining town filled with workers who are "the very image of damned souls, expelled from hell and exiled on earth." Though she successfully trades her stash of tobacco for enough copper and silver to provide food and supplies for her family, the return trip home isn't without drama. In a piled-on sequence of unfortunate events, Jole faces threats from border guards who will capture or shoot her if she is caught with contraband; she is also stalked by a villainous man seeking revenge for Jole's father's supposed sexual assault and murder of his own daughter on a previous smuggling journey. A gratuitous scene toward the end further mars the book. Righetto's in-depth descriptions of the harsh, pastoral scenery are what save the book from being a long-winded recap of a young maiden's increasingly wretched trials over the river and through the woods, making it most recommendable as a transportive look at a specific time and place.