Been Here a Thousand Years

Written by Mariolina Venezia
Review by Helene Williams

Life has always been hard in the small southern-Italian farming village of Grottole. The inhabitants give their all to the land, but the land doesn’t always give back; any gains in productivity or prosperity are looked upon with suspicion, as everyone knows that happiness and satisfaction are fleeting. What holds the village together is its women, and this delightful tale is the story of six generations of Falcone women.

The dynasty begins around 1850, with Don Francesco Falcone’s lust for a young field worker, Concetta. Like the other girls in the village, Concetta is resigned to her fate of hard work, a loveless marriage, and as many children as her body can bear. What happens, though, is that she loves the man who seduced her in a shed then refused to marry her until she bore him a boy. Don Francesco loves her, too, in his way—and he loves their children—six girls, then, finally, a boy. Although the family makes a good living off the land, Don Francesco’s hopes of a large home and fortune are dashed by politics.

The supposedly unified Italy is rife with outlaws and bandits fighting the government, and in the battle of the haves vs. the have-nots, sometimes the bad guys win. The women learn and re-learn this lesson throughout the generations, dealing with wars, Fascism, and Communism, all the while holding the family and community together. Concetta’s daughters have their own daughters, who in turn have daughters—there are sons, too, but their stories are ancillary—who all meet the challenges of the day with their individual strengths. Their hardscrabble tales, often sad, but sometimes slyly humorous, serve to succinctly illustrate 150 years of Italian history and culture.