The Seamstress of Sardinia

Harper Perennial. Dec. 2022. 304p. tr. from Italian by Brigid Maher. ISBN 9780063271692. pap. $17. F
Italian author Pitzorno makes her U.S. debut with this novel. At the end of the 19th century, only two members of a Sardinian family survive a cholera epidemic: Nonna and her young granddaughter. As the girl grows up, Nonna gives her lessons on being a sartina (a seamstress hired by the day), encompassing both sewing techniques and how to avoid trouble with the upper classes who employ them. A good student, her granddaughter (the novel’s unnamed protagonist) employs Nonna’s wise advice to navigate difficult decisions (how to save a friend; how to keep one’s word; whether to sacrifice another to clear one’s own name). The protagonist tells the story from her point of view in self-contained but connected episodic and suspenseful dramas, making readers into trusted confidants. Subtle emotions build connections but don’t obscure the matter-of-fact ways in which characters respond to tough issues, as Nonna says that big emotions are a privilege of the wealthy. Small descriptive details build an understanding of Sardinia at the turn of the century, creating a fascinating backdrop and helpfully explaining the characters’ actions and reactions.
VERDICT Will be a hit with readers seeking a historical novel with a protagonist to root for: a strong young woman who hopes to succeed despite having few advantages.
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