The story is set in the mid-1950s in Italy, where the old order has passed away and the postwar economic miracle is beginning to blossom. Our heroine, Chiara, is the beautiful 17-year-old daughter of Count Giancarlo Ridolfi, the scion of a distinguished (but now impoverished) Florentine family. Indeed, Chiari's family history includes the romantic tale of a 16th century female dwarf.

The (more or less) hero of our story is Salvatore Rossi, an earnest young neurologist who hails from a Communist family in a poor village in the south. One night Chiara and Salvatore meet by chance at a concert and fall hopelessly in love. Neither one knows how to respond to the powerful emotions that possess them.

Chiara consults Barney, her worldly and loudmouthed English friend from boarding school. What should she do? Salvatore consults Gentilini, his older and overwhelmingly married colleague. How should he proceed? Meanwhile, Cesare, Chiara's avuncular and solitary cousin who lives on the family farm, has his own part to play in the story. And, in truth, the story lurches from one misunderstanding to another as the wedding approaches, eventuates, and recedes into the past.


Penelope Fitzgerald published her first novel in 1977 when she was 60 years old. Eight novels later, Fitzgerald is now considered one of England's finest working novelists and perhaps the best stylist. She has been shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize three times and won it once (in 1979 for Offshore).

Fitzgerald's prose is precise, luminous, and wry. Her novels are generally sharply etched comedies of manners, full of unusual characters and mordant observations. The elegance of the prose itself is worth the price of admission.


Henry Holt

Place Published

New York



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