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In this charming, deeply atmospheric novel set against the Amalfi Coast of the 1950s, two women form an intense and lasting friendship that embodies the paradoxes of Italian society.
Inspired by her own adventurous, unconventional life, actress and writer Goliarda Sapienza’s recently rediscovered novel takes the reader to the sun-drenched town of Positano in southern Italy. There, while working on a film, Goliarda encounters the captivating Erica, a beautiful widow called “Princess” by the locals, who has been the object of much speculation. As the two women grow closer in spite of their different personalities, they gradually reveal more about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and the ghosts from their pasts that continue to hang over them.
Writing the story of their transformative friendship thirty years later, Goliarda offers a profound reflection on love in its many forms, and opens a window onto an enchanting time and place that lingers in the mind. And this unlikely bond, forged between a leftist idealist and a traditional aristocrat, acts as a microcosm of Italy, illuminating its complex, competing impulses.
Italian writer and filmmaker Sapienza (1924 1996), known by English-language readers for the feminist novel The Art of Joy, offers a languid autofiction of female friendship on the Amalfi Coast. The story unfolds as a series of conversations between the narrator, Goliarda, and Erica Beneventano, an enigmatic young widow. They meet on a secluded beach after Goliarda arrives in Positano in the late 1940s as part of a group scouting for a film location. The women start talking and develop a fast friendship. Erica confides that while her family had once been members of the nobility, her father lost all their money. Over Goliarda's subsequent visits to Positano, she wants to know what's caused Erica's constant sadness. The widow obliges, telling of unrequited love with Riccardo, who came from a poor family; an unhappy marriage with Leopoldo; and relief after Leopoldo unexpectedly died. After this dramatic revelation, Erica reconnects with Riccardo, leading to a final tragedy. While the reader learns little of Goliarda's film work, Sapienza intersperses Erica's revelations with brief, finely rendered character sketches of townspeople and crisp descriptions of the landscape. The insights on the relationship between love and money give this elegantly slender novel a nice bit of heft.