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In this exhilarating coming-of-age tale set in the late 19th century, a daring young woman braves the wilds of the mountainous Austrian-Italian border—and the dangerous men who conspired with her missing father to smuggle tobacco—in order to save her family.
Jole de Boer is just fifteen years old the first time she accompanies her father—a tobacco grower named Augusto—as he smuggles his product across the Italian border into Austria. She knows the dangers of the treacherous high mountain passes—border guards, brigands, wild animals, ferocious weather—but she is proud that her father has asked her to join him. After all, without the extra money Augusto’s smuggling brings in, their family would starve.
But when Augusto mysteriously disappears during one of his trips, Jole must retrace the route he took to both find a buyer for her family’s tobacco—and the truth behind her father’s disappearance.
An epic tale of revenge, corruption, and salvation, The Soul of the Border is an unforgettable journey into the wild.
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.