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From the internationally bestselling author of The Children’s Train comes an unforgettable coming-of-age novel, set in 1960s Sicily and based on a true story, of how a young Sicilian girl defied centuries old tradition to win the right to control her own life.
As provincial Sicily bursts into life with the jaunty hum of pop music and the heady scent of wild jasmine, fifteen-year-old Oliva Denaro dares to challenge convention, ignoring the taunts of peers, her mother’s scolds, and her own changing body. Spirited and carefree, she loves to run until her lungs burst: to feel the strength of her lithe limbs, to relish the freedom she cherishes, to honor the friends forced by propriety to conform. Though she knows she cannot stop growing up, Oliva resists the future. To her, becoming a woman means denying oneself.
But adulthood comes all too quickly when the baker’s son sets his sights on her. Offered a blood orange, Oliva – haunted by her mother’s warning, “a girl who smiles has already said yes” – spurns the fruit. Yet, this act sets into motion an unwanted courtship that will force Oliva to fight for the right to choose her own path, even though the odds of winning are steep. While America and Europe are in the throes of social change, Sicily fiercely clings to its rigid traditions, including the custom of fuitina – by which kidnappings could be disguised as elopements – which is accepted and enshrined in law. Oliva’s battle for independence is based on the real-life story that would ultimately rock Italy – capturing the attention of both the Pope and the nation’s president – and transform life for all Italians.
The Unbreakable Heart of Oliva Denaro is a lyrical tale of staggering beauty. Viola Ardone beautifully evokes a land and its people, customs, and passions, and breathes life into an unforgettable girl in all her intensity, desperation, perseverance, and bravery. Alternating between the lighthearted and the tragic, it is a classic coming-of-age novel – powerful, spellbinding, and liberating.
Translated from the Italian by Clarissa Botsford.