During the late 19th century, Amalia and her ailing niece live in an almost inaccessible cave on the rocky coast of Sicily. They spend their days simply trying to exist in such harsh conditions. Amalia loves the child and keeps her entertained with stories of when she was a young nursemaid to Costanza Safamita, the only girl child born to the noble Safamita family. Costanza is born with brilliant red hair, unlike anyone else in her family. Her unusual hair color prompts her mother’s rejection and her father’s love, which displeases her brothers. Because of her mother’s cruelty towards her, she is raised by palace servants and adored by her father, who loves her more than her brothers. As a young woman, Costanza falls in love with an impoverished Pietro Patella, and even though her father disapproves, they marry, giving Pietro access to her dowry. Constanza grows unhappy in her marriage because of her husband’s rejection and his infidelities. Then one day, Costanza decides to allow no one and nothing to impede her life and she grows stronger and more independent. Soon she uncovers long-buried family secrets and for the first time begins to understand the misfortunes of her childhood.
Translated from the Italian by Alastair McEwan, the story unfolds through an opulent omniscient narrative and through the voices of its diverse characters. The tale moved along so interestingly and at such a fast pace that I found myself rapidly turning the pages long past midnight. Its intricate plot twists and tidbits of the odd and unusual were completely engrossing.