La Brigantessa Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli

La Brigantessa by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli

What’s the next best thing to visiting a place? Reading about it. While I would have loved to have been able to follow through with my Calabria tours this past spring, the lockdown gave me the opportunity to catch up on a few books that had been waiting patiently on my shelf. Amongst them, La Brigantessa by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli. 

LA BRIGANTESSA

La Brigantessa by Rosanna Micelotta BattigelliThe book’s dramatic cover sets the tone for this historical novel set in Southern Calabria during the period of Italian Unification. The story takes place in 1862, a tumultuous time, particularly difficult and tragic for the Italian South. For the average visitor to Italy or the casual reader, the Risorgimento can be confusing when one hears of the victories of Giuseppe Garibaldi and sees statues of him up and down the peninsula, but then becomes aware of a negativity clouding the subject. The novel presents the dichotomy between the south’s initial support of Garibaldi and the subsequent delusion with the outcome of the political movement that favored the north.

Thus, the figure of the brigante or brigand (and at times also his female counterpart, the brigantessa) plays an important role in what would become a southern revolt. The book cover features an historical photo of the famous brigantessa Michelina Di Cesare, dressed and posed in traditional clothing. Such images were treated as souvenirs and used as propaganda against the dissenting voices of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. At her death, Michelina Di Cesare was stripped and displayed in public. The nude photo would also be circulated by the government…

For Gabriella, the heroine of La Brigantessa, life’s cruelty forces her to take refuge in a brigand’s lair, where she learns that circumstances have compelled many a would be upright citizen to don the mantle of brigandry. The author describes the plight of the brigand chief and others fated to this fringe existence: “For it is the law that failed Stefano, his sister, and countless others who have been trod on by the wealthy and entitled, and who have suffered injustice and humiliation with no recourse but to take to the hills and skulk like wild animals with the constant threat of pursuit, capture, torture, and death. Or life imprisonment, if luck is on their side.”

CAMINI, GERACE AND THE ASPROMONTE

Calabrian village

Looking out to the Ionian Sea from Gerace

The story unfolds in the Aspromonte Mountains of Southern Calabria, the author’s place of birth. Before her family moved to Canada, Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli spent her first few years in Camini, a village on a hill overlooking the Ionian Sea, where her fictional protagonist would have been born a hundred years earlier. Other scenes take place in the nearby town of Gerace, one of Italy’s official borghi più belli d’Italia or Most Beautiful Villages. Gerace is well known for its many churches and lovingly restored medieval center.

The characters live and breathe the air of the Aspromonte Mountains, whether in one of its numerous settlements or in its wilds, from the campaign of Garibaldi at the Battle of Aspromonte to the fight for freedom hunkered down in a brigand hideout. These mountains afforded rugged rebels a protective shelter with their “many hollows and copses … jagged promontories and furrowed brows” and “seemingly impenetrable woodlands.”

DRAMA AND ROMANCE

Italian shepherd

19th-century shepherd figure from nativity scene made by Giuseppe Pesa from Seminara, Calabria

The author sinks her teeth into dramatic description, grabbing the reader from the start with an explicit recounting of Camini’s hog butchering, an important annual event in the agrarian culture. The narrative reveals the hard work and challenges of village life, while recounting the strength of familial and community bonds.

Just eking out an existence was difficult enough for the common people. And at times, the outside oppression pushed villagers over the edge, from survival mode to the unbearable. This was the period in which Southern Italians began to flee to the Americas in great numbers.

How will the young Gabriella, the reluctant brigantessa, endure such obstacles? Sustained by an image of her betrothed, familial and communal values, a supportive priest, and yes, even a brigand, she battles for survival in a harsh world. But through it all, from tasty pigeon soup and washing down by the river to brigands’ heads gruesomely displayed on spikes and preserved in glass jars, the reader must hold the mule’s reigns through to the end to resolve the age-old question: Who gets the girl? Or la brigantessa?


La Brigantessa by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli is published in print and electronic versions by Inanna Publications out of Toronto, Canada and is widely available. Visit the Inanna Publications website for more information.

The shepherd figure pictured above is in the collection of the Ethnographic Museum at the House of Culture in Palmi, Calabria.

All about the beautiful region in the toe of the Italian boot in Calabria: The Other Italy, my award-winning book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in this fascinating area of South Italy. Available in paperback and electronic versions.

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Comments 27

    1. Sounds like a book I want to read! Thanks for suggesting it. This will be my 7th book about travel during this lock down.
      Peace….

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      2. I hope you enjoy it, Marilyn. If you would like to find out more about it, just google my name and title of the book… Thanks!

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      Yes, the brigantesse must have been very strong, indeed, with challenges we would have trouble even imagining today.

  1. Since I was a small boy growing up in Denver, Colorado, my immigrant father, aunts, uncles, would recount stories told to them about their grandfather who became a brigand during the unification struggles and fought against Garibaldi in the Aspromonte. They would point to the Italian film made in 1961 called “I Briganti Italiani “ directed by Mario Camerini and starring Italian-Ametican actor, Ernest Borgnine as my great-grandfather Sante Carbone as direct evidence of this story. In the film Sante kidnaps one of Garibaldi’s lieutenants, O Caporale, played by Vittorio Gassmann. But there are inconsistencies: In my family’s story my g-grandfather is the one who is kidnapped and my great- grandfather’s name was Rocco. This is still a mystery I am attempting to unravel, which I may never accomplish. Yet this post has renewed my interest of finding the nuggets of truth of the family tale.

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      Wow, you have quite the exciting family history! That would be something if the main character was based on your great-grandfather. According to the movie’s Wikipedia page, it was filmed in Campania and Molise, and of course there were brigands with similar stories throughout the south. But whether or not this particular film was based on your forebears doesn’t change your family’s history. It’s very likely that you have brigand’s blood coursing through your veins!

      1. Yes, I have been attempting to document this particular brigand if he existed and whether his name was Carbone. I tried to communicate with Borgnine before he died and had no luck. Years ago before the Internet and WWW I used film dictionaries and encyclopedias. In the entries for Borgnine the film was not even mentioned.

        I was able to have an email conversation with one of the characters, Lawrence Montaigne, but he could not recall any thing about the film.

        Thanks for posting

    2. How fascinating, Jerry! I will have to check out that film. And best wishes in finding out more about your family history!

      1. Rosanna– I do want to read your book and will get it into my queue. I have been writing about certain stories about my family at my blog, http://whetstonebrookgenealogy.com/blog/. An interesting one which I stumbled on doing newspaper research , which involved two of my great-uncles who were coal miners in early 20th century Wyoming. The story involves a knife fight between two groups of miners, one Italian and one not; two casualties; one death; a threat of mob violence; anti-Italian, yellow journalism; which resulted in a near riot where the Italian consul was called from Denver.

        It all finally calmed down, but two miners were sent to prison. My uncles were exonerated.

        1. Thanks, Jerry! It’s great to connect with readers interested in this time period in Italian history. I was so fascinated with what was happening in post-unification Calabria that I decided to write a fictional story based on true facts. Who know where your research will lead you… Perhaps this intriguing story of your great-uncles might develop into a novel? I look forward to checking your blog!

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    2. Awesome, Barbara! Thanks! Hope you enjoy it! (And many thanks to Karen for her wonderful post about it!)

      1. Just finished reading it and ordered a copy for my mother (she is in DC and I am in Florida) – cannot wait for her to read it, it was wonderful! We have visited the area a couple of times, actually we were in Gerace in August, so really enjoyed reading a story set in an area we have visited. We enjoyed Karen’s book before our trip. My grandparents were from Plati so your story was extra special. My great grandparents would have been the age of the characters and living in the same region. Hope to return again, perhaps we will be able to take one of Karen’s tours!

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          So glad you enjoyed Rosanna’s book! Having family connections with the specific area and having visited places in the book make it all that much more personal and special. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and hopefully we’ll meet on a tour one day!

  2. Thanks for the commentary–I look forward to reading this. Wasn’t there already a phenomenon of “brigandry” in this area? Edward Lear, who in the late 1840s spent a night in my grandfather’s village of Agnana, just NE of Gerace, wrote in his travel journal that it was a hotbed for outlaws. There were probably political as well as economic reasons for this, given what I have read about the Kingdom of Naples. Perhaps you could do a tour in the future of Calabrian brigand strongholds–though the Calabrian mafia might want some input!

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      The historic travelogues all mention brigands as it was a hot topic in Italy, but interestingly, none of them ever had an incidence with one. In earlier centuries, there had certainly been economic brigandry in Italy, but with resistance to the Napoleon conquest, political brigandry emerged. This increased greatly after unification and at times took on the character of a popular uprising and became to be known as the Grande Brigantaggio or the Great Brigandage, which I mentioned briefly in Calabria: The Other Italy. It was a phenomenon throughout the south, and in my upcoming book about Basilicata, I dedicate a chapter to “Brigandage.” As for Brigands and the Mafia, they are completely separate issues that are often erroneously lumped together. In Calabria, there are brigands’ trails, but you would have to be in good shape to tackle them!

  3. Grazie mille, Karen, for posting this lovely piece about my book! I’m so thrilled! And I’m very happy to share that since its publication, La Brigantessa has garnered a few awards:

    La Brigantessa, 2019 Gold IPPY Award for Historical Fiction
    2019 The Miramichi “The Very Best!” Book Award for Best Cover Art
    2019 International Book Award for Best Cover
    2019 Finalist for Northern Lit Award & Canadian Authors Association Fred Kerner Book Award
    https://www.inanna.ca/index.php/catalog/la-brigantessa/

    After a few (no, many!) takes, lol, I finally recorded an excerpt from the first chapter and shared it on FB and Twitter. The villagers are participating in the annual tradition of the hog slaughter. This scene is between Gabriella the protagonist, and Tonino, the butcher’s son. Setting: the village of Camini (Calabria, Italy), 1862.

    Thanks so much once again, Karen! I loved your Calabria Tour last summer, and hope to do it again! Perhaps we can have an evening with a reading from La Brigantessa when we’re in the Aspromonte or even Camini, where I was born and where I’ve partially set the novel?! 🙂

    Thanks to all for commenting and expressing interest in my novel. If you connect with me on FB or Twitter, please mention Karen’s blog! Thanks!!

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      Wow, congratulations on all your awards! That’s impressive. Interesting that you’ve recorded an excerpt. I’m going to check it out. I know that audiobooks are very popular now and several people have asked me if I’m planning on one of my book, so I’m curious to hear your reading! Best wishes with all your projects and keep in touch!

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  4. Loved La Brigantessa and am waiting for the movie! Karen, you and Rosanna should start offering a ‘Brigantessa’ tour of Calabria, including the places set in the book-although maybe not the hog slaughter 😂. Really enjoyed how you included places from the book in the post. Ciao, Cristina

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      I imagine you wouldn’t turn down the “fruits” of the hog slaughter, though! There are so many beautiful places to choose from for tours; however Gerace is quite special and is on my Calabria Cultural Tour. And who knows? Rosanna is a busy bee – she might just have a sequel in the works…

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      It seems to me that if you can do your washing down by the river and cook over an open hearth, you can do just about anything.

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