The fascinating life of Berta
Genga (AN), late 800’s.
Salvo, who is little more than a motherless child, while returning home one day from his work in the fields, finds his father dead. In order to survive, Salvo takes on a number of different jobs and finally ends up working as a hired hand for Domenico and Annetta, owners of a vast estate and parents to two girls his own age, Berta and Clotilde. Berta and Salvo eventually wind up falling in love, and when Berta falls pregnant one evening, a shotgun wedding is the only possible solution. Salvo, who is proud and stubborn, asks Domenico to let him take care of his family on his own, without any economic support from his father-in-law.
In the town, a furnace is built and Salvo is hired. His two children, Antonio and Pino, are born. The years pass, and Antonio, who has inherited his grandfather Domenico’s great passion for learning, leaves for Germany in order to become a professor, to the great anger of Salvo. World War I breaks out and Salvo, because of the overwhelmingly long watches he is forced to serve, dies. In the meantime, Berta, who had started working at the furnace, is followed to the river one day by one of the managers who attempts to rape her while she is on her break. While trying to defend herself, she kills him.
World War I, which continues to wreak havoc on the world order, forces the Italian army to draft children born in ’99 into combat. Even Pino is supposed to go, but the new pastor decides to hide him and all his peers in the Frasassi Caves sanctuary. Clotilde, who had previously left the country after a marriage of convenience, returns to ask her father for money, but finds the estate in ruins. Clotilde does not believe the words of her father and takes revenge by reporting the hiding place of the town’s youths to the authorities. Berta, however, manages to warn them in time.
Battista and Giacomo, two craftsmen who create figurines for nativity scenes, ask Pino to work for them and he accepts, thereby gaining the respect and approval of the two master artisans. Berta’s father, shortly before dying, tells his daughter where he has hidden a large sum of money, and Berta recovers it and then hides it. Giacomo, one of the two craftsmen who is also in love with Berta; who in the meantime has fallen ill; asks her to sell him the estate of her father so he can bring it back to its former glory. Berta accepts and recovers from her illness. Giacomo subsequently confesses his feelings to her, but she has difficulty accepting his kindness. After a long courtship, the two get married on the same day as Pino and Giulia, the daughter of Egle, who had previously been invited by Don Fernando to come teach at the town’s new school. From the marriage of Pino and Giulia, a baby girl, Sofia, is born.
Fascism goes on a rampage not only in an Italy that is in extremis, but also at the small farm, which sees the arrival of the first black shirts. One day Franco, one of the farmworkers and son of Giustina, is found dead in front of the house wearing only a black shirt. The real problems begin, however, with the first racial laws, since Egle, Giulia and Sofia are all of Jewish descent. During the bombardment of Ancona, Giulio, once a farmworker at the small farm and subsequently a fascist activist, kills Egle and Don Fernando, while the Germans, warned by Clotilde, take Sofia away. At the concentration camp, the girl meets up with an old friend of hers, Dania, as well as Ines, and three other girls (the suffering of Sofia and her companions depicted in the book is actually based on true events that took place in the concentration camps). Sofia manages to survive and returns home, where in the meantime life has continued with its usual comings and goings. Even Berta’s firstborn son Antonio will return, and among the friends that follow Sofia back, he will be reunited with his lost love Ines, who he had previously been separated from when she was sent to Germany. Sofia, as a consequence of her great sufferings, is completely changed by the experience and not even the sweet demeanor of her grandmother Berta can convince her to make peace with her life. Sometimes, however, destiny changes from foe to friend, as will happen with Sofia.