A nuanced exploration of love, family, and the human spirit…
Montanino makes her debut in the historical genre with this layered and engrossing tale of one young girl’s journey to independence. It is 1906. After losing her mother to child birth, fifteen-year-old Angelina Pirrello is struggling to balance between her studies, household chores, and work at her father’s small shop. The Mafia in the city is on rise, targeting the Italian businesses. To protect Angelina, her father sends her to a cigar factory to work. But cigar rolling is not something Angelina wants to do for life. In a time, when women don’t even have the right to vote, taking charge of her own destiny is almost impossible. The father-daughter duo is constantly at loggerheads, but the stakes rise when Angelina falls in love and refuses to marry the man her father has selected for her. Montanino proves herself an astute observer of the Italian culture, especially in her portrayal of the enduring family bonds, lingering sentimentality, countless superstitions, faith, and prejudices. In addition to highlighting 1900s attitudes toward gender (women were thought to be ill-suited to work and higher education or incapable of taking any major decision even about their own lives) and early stirrings of social change of the twentieth century, Montanino injects plenty of credible period details such as the rigidly defined class system, racial disparities, and the prejudice against the working class among the upper-class population. Montanino’s imagery of Ybor City brings it to life, and readers will revel in her descriptions of the components of Cigar making: how the tobacco leaves are stripped, humidified, separated according to color and quality, and finally cigars are rolled. Montanino’s love for literature and reading is apparent in the pages as Angelina and Rolando indulge in book-talk more than often. Angelina, with her sheer determination and innate kindness makes for a memorable heroine. Her overwhelming sadness at losing her mother and her father’s indifferent ways and her aching loneliness along with her stubborn convictions are beautifully portrayed. Rolando’s quiet determination provides a stark contrast to the stirring emotions of Fabian. The secondary characters are multifaceted and dynamic, and sketched with conviction. Montanino beautifully delves into the intricacies of family and relationships: there are fissures in Angelina’s Sicilian clan, but love, enduring bonds, and resilience stays at its core. This thought-provoking, lyrical novel will stay in readers’ minds long after they turn the last page.
The Weight of Salt
By Sandra Montanino
Pub date December 17, 2020
Price $26.99 (USD) Hardcover, $11.47 Paperback, 4.07 Kindle edition