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Casa Rossa

Casa Rossa

4.0 4
by Francesca Marciano

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A crumbling farmhouse in Puglia, Casa Rossa was bought by Alina Strada’s grandfather at a time when no one else wanted it. Now busy preparing it for sale, Alina endeavors to recover the memories it still harbors—in particular of three women whose passions indelibly shaped her family’s dark past. There’s grandmother Renee, whose love of


A crumbling farmhouse in Puglia, Casa Rossa was bought by Alina Strada’s grandfather at a time when no one else wanted it. Now busy preparing it for sale, Alina endeavors to recover the memories it still harbors—in particular of three women whose passions indelibly shaped her family’s dark past. There’s grandmother Renee, whose love of novelty won over everything else. Alina’s mother, Alba, whose marriage to a screenwriter inspired both great art and unbearable sadness. Finally Isabella, Alina’s sister, whose fervent politics drove her to ever-escalating betrayals. Moving from Jazz Age Paris to 1950s Rome to modern-day New York, but returning always to the uncompromising beauty of Italy’s south, Casa Rossa is a spellbinding story of how loves and losses, secrets and lies, resonate across the generations.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“An engaging, sweeping and compulsively readable novel.” —The Washington Post Book World

“An enthralling tour de force …The gritty details of modern Italian life make Casa Rossa impossible to put down.” —USA Today

“[Marciano] amps up the glamour and mystery in her sophisticated novel about Italian sisters who clash over family, politics and men. Think La Dolce Vita turned topical tale.” —Glamour

“Elegant, eloquent prose . . . Casa Rossa is notable for its rueful understanding of the volatile mix of emotions that binds us to those we love.” —Los Angeles Times

“[A]ffecting, beautifully told. . . [R]ich and resonant. . .Marciano is a natural-born storyteller.”—The New York Times

“Beautifully told . . . rich and resonant. . . . Marciano is a natural-born storyteller.” The New York Times Book Review

“A family epic [that] revolves around three generations of extraordinary women… Fans of Marciano’s first novel will once again embrace her sensual descriptions of exotic lands.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Marciano brings Southern Italy as boldly to life as she did Kenya in Rules of the Wild. . . . imperturbably weav[ing] intricate complications together into a glamorous, romantic whole.” —Publishers Weekly

“Lyrical. . . . Romantic. . . . The story of a family whose secrets collide with history.” —Desert News

“Marciano. . .casts a sharp eye on the society that surrounds the family of the Casa Rossa. Her Italy is full of lies. . .But the search for truth takes courage, and the lesson learned in her novel is that the violence of the anni di piombo achieved nothing.” —The Economist

“Lyrical. . . . spiced with those special Italian flavors: beauty, melodrama, and–of course–murder. . . . Thank heaven for life’s little pleasures.” —Daily Candy NYC

“Marciano effectively intermingles family secrets, Italian history, and the loves and lives of her characters. A good read.” —Library Journal

“Tells the mesmerizing story of three generations of a twentieth century Italian family . . . with . . . passion and fervor. . . . Enthralling.” —Italian Tribune

”We are made to reevaluate history and to look at the human cost both of ideals and failures in ideals. . .The period [Marciano] describes may have been given a stylish apotheosis by the early Fellini, but it can survive now only in elegies which, like this one, are really indictments.” —Times Literary Supplement

Publishers Weekly
In this passionate tale of three generations of one 20th-century Italian family, Marciano brings Southern Italy as boldy to life as she did Kenya in her first novel, the well-received Rules of the Wild (1998). As Alina Strada prepares to sell the family farmhouse in Puglia, she reflects on the tumultuous past, beginning with the purchase and restoration of the crumbling farmhouse before WWII by her grandfather, Lorenzo, a moderately successful portrait painter. When Lorenzo's Tunisian wife and model, Ren e, runs off with a German woman, he takes revenge by painting a huge nude of Renee on the inner patio wall. After a brief nervous breakdown, he marries his nurse, Jeanne, who immediately has the white stone house, so typical of the region, painted red-hence the name Casa Rossa-and the nude mural covered up. Lorenzo's daughter, Alba, has two daughters, Alina and Isabella, by her dashing husband, Oliviero, who leaves a murky legacy after his early demise. As the girls mature and governments come and go in postwar Italy, Alina has a brush with drugs, while her less fortunate sister, Isabella, joins a group of terrorists. Alina works for a time with a Fellini-esque filmmaker before moving to New York, where she gets a job at an art gallery and falls in love with an American. Alina's perspective on 1980s New York nicely complements her American boyfriend's subsequent view of Italy. The intricate complications may challenge belief, but the author imperturbably weaves them together into a glamorous, romantic whole. (Sept. 3) Forecast: A 10-city tour by the attractive and articulate Italian author, buoyed by the wave of her first novel's success, should guarantee sales at least equal to those for Rules of the Wild. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The story of two sisters is intricately wrapped up in the story of the old farmhouse in the heel of the boot of Italy their grandfather owned and passed down to them. The novel begins and ends with Alina Strada packing up the house. In between, she tells stories of her mother's life and about the childhood she and her older sister Isabella shared. Dramatic events like her father's suicide, her mother's remarriages and her sister Isabella's conviction as a terrorist unroll from her memories. These events combine to create the texture of her own life that keeps returning to Casa Rossa. The author captures the tumultuous time of rebellion and unrest in modern Italy as well as the complex tapestry of family life. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Vintage, 340p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
Library Journal
Spanning the 20th century, this is the tale of three generations of Italian women. At the center of their lives and the connective thread among them is Casa Rossa, a beautiful old farmhouse in rural Puglia. As the novel begins, Alina is packing up the homestead and reflecting on the events that have led to the present. The first woman to run the house was her grandmother, Renee, who came to Casa Rossa as the young bride of Alina's painter grandfather and served as his model and muse. After growing bored with country life, she ran off to Nazi Germany with her new lover, leaving behind her husband and young daughter Alba, who also longed for more excitement. Alba ended up marrying a young screenwriter and moving to Rome, and the narrative continues with her daughters, Isabella and Alina. Marciano (Rules of the Wild) effectively intermingles family secrets, Italian history, and the loves and lives of her characters. A good read for fans of multigenerational sagas and modern Italian history, this is recommended for most libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/02.] Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A second romantic potboiler from Marciano (Rules of the Wild, 1998), who returns to her native Italy to imagine what perils and joys could be experienced in three generations of a Mediterranean family. Casa Rossa, as narrator Alina Strada tells us, was painted red by her grandfather Lorenzo in cold rage after his wife Renee abandoned him (and her daughter Alba) for another woman and went with her to live in Nazi Germany. Lorenzo, an artist, had painted a giant mural of Renee on one of the exterior walls and needed a dark color to obliterate it. The house remained in the Strada family for more than 70 years, but when it was sold, in the 1990s, Alina went to clean it for the new owners. Naturally, she came across a great many mementos that brought back the story of her brilliant and unhappy family. In the 1950s, her mother Alba, who grew up in Casa Rossa, married the famous screenwriter Oliviero Strada and enjoyed with him the dolce vita of Roman celebrity-until Oliviero was found dead, whether through suicide or murder. Very soon after, Alba married a shady businessman named Bruno, and Alina and her sister Isabella retreated from this unhappy new family into private worlds of their own: Alina to heroin, Isabella to the Red Brigades. When Alina eventually overcame her addiction, she moved to New York and fell in love with journalist Daniel Moore. By then, Isabella had been sent to prison, but Daniel publicized her case so widely that her verdict was overturned. Then it became apparent that Daniel's interest in Isabella was more than professional. No such thing as a happy ending? Well, when was the last time you saw an Italian opera with one? An engaging tale, simply told and with a measureof wit: a high-end soap opera to be enjoyed and forgotten. Take it to the beach. Author tour

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)

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Read an Excerpt

When we were small, my sister Isabella and I used to wonder whether Alba had murdered our father.

Murdered him, and then made up the suicide story.

We'd be in the kitchen, hunting for food, two skinny girls, ten and twelve. Murdered. We'd let that possibility hang in the air, to see if anything crashed or shattered, but nothing ever moved. The house remained perfectly still.

"Who knows, anyway," we'd say, to finish it off. We didn't really want to know. If she had done it, eventually they would come and lock her up.

It was bad enough, what had happened already. Dad vanishing, like a card in a trick.

We'd hear the keys in the door. She'd come in smiling, wearing her green dress and sandals, her arms full of groceries.

There she was: Alba. Our mother. The Murderer.

"Want a prosciutto sandwich, darlings?"

When we were that small, things shifted proportions all the time: the really dangerous stuff shrunk, curled up in a ball so that we could juggle it, study it closely, let it drop from our hands the minute it began to bother us.

It was a silent agreement between my sister and me. To move on, to survive.

To eat that sandwich.


Careful now. Watch what you do.

You keep staring at the living room, you don't think you can fol- low this task. It feels like sacrilege to alter its order, like rummaging a temple.

How long has this dark red armchair been sitting across from the threadbare sofa, right next to the painted lampshade? How many years has the faded rug sat on these stone tiles? Renée's portrait hung on the wall? The opaline vase stood on the mantelpiece?

My grandfather bought this house in the late twenties. It was a crumbling farmhouse then, nobody wanted it. My mother grew up here. My sister and I did, too.

Casa Rossa has been my family house for over seventy years.

I know its smell like I know the smell of cut grass. Its map is imprinted in me, I can walk it blindfolded.

Why did I think these objects would stay like this forever and that I could always come back, find the chair and the sofa and the rug and the painting in their place? That way I assumed I could always reenact all the different moments that shaped our story. Like the day when Renée was sitting for my grandfather on the wicker chair and, as he was painting another one of her portraits, she told him about Muriel. The summer day Oliviero came for lunch and sat outside on the patio under the trellis and fell in love with my mother. The times my sister lay awake at night, wrapped in her hatred, fearing every noise. Or the night I took Daniel Moore in here for the first time. I opened the door and showed him this room. This rug, this faded sofa, that yellowing lampshade. The room smelled of firewood. "This is it," I said.

I hoped it would stay like this forever, so that, by coming back and finding everything still arranged exactly as I had left it, I would believe I had secured my history in a safe place. Inside a shrine, where nothing would get lost. Just as prayers are never lost in a church. One can always go back and light another candle.

As I walk across the ground floor of Casa Rossa, as I move from the large kitchen into the living room, then through the big wooden door into my grandfather's studio, I look around, I count my steps, I mark my territory as if it's the last time I will ever do this. And, guess what. It is.

I talk out loud to myself-like I always do when I'm scared. Careful now, watch what you do. Everything, from now on, will be final and surprisingly quick.

The movers will arrive and wait for me to give them a sign. Then they will heft the table, then the sofa, they will roll up the rug and take down the painting. They will wrap the furniture in blankets and tie it with rope. They will blindfold and choke the familiar shapes and will pile them up one on top of the other in the truck. An armrest will show from under the blanket. The stain on its faded fabric will look pathetic. The scratches on the table legs, the pale circle a cup had once left on its top: all these familiar marks will look spooky now, like scars. One didn't notice them so much before. But it will be impossible to look at them now without shame. You will have to admit that these things have turned into what they have always been but which you always refused to see: a pile of sad, old junk.

Once every single piece of furniture and every single box are loaded onto the truck, this house, stripped bare in a single morning, will go back to being mute. A white canvas, where someone else will write their story.

That's how fast our memories disintegrate.

I've been procrastinating about calling the movers, of course. Who wouldn't? It's like phoning in your own death sentence and prodding the executioner.

Instead I've been wandering around the rooms in a daze, touching surfaces, sizing things up. Every time I open a drawer or look in the back of an armoire, some new discovery stuns me. I keep turning between my fingers what I have just found, as if expecting it to talk to me. An old dusty ribbon (a hat? gift wrapping?), a newspaper clipping from the fifties, the obituary page (whose death are we looking at here?), a single light-blue silk shoe, custom-made in Paris (Renée's?), a tiny photograph in black-and-white, of a group of young people huddled together on a beach in thirties-style bathing suits (which one is my grandfather?), a single page from a letter (no date, no signature, written in French).

It's like trying to trace the history of an Egyptian mummy from her ring, a few glass beads, bits of broken pottery, a faded inscription. Yes, she was a merchant's wife-no, a pharaoh's sister, or maybe a high priestess. History demands a plot with a proper beginning and a proper end.

This is not a story about what we know, nor about what we have.

This story is about what gets lost on the way.

My mother, Alba, rings me twice a day from her house in Rome. She wants to know how I'm proceeding with the move.

"Oh," I say gingerly, "I'm not quite ready yet. I still have to go through all the drawers upstairs in the bedrooms. There are all these papers, photographs, you have no idea how-"

"Just chuck everything in the boxes," she interrupts. "You'll never get out alive if you start looking at everything. Those people said they want to move in next week."

"It's all right. They have the house for life now. They can wait another day or two. By the way, I found your wedding dress."

"Oh my God."

"It doesn't even look like a wedding dress. I only recognized it from of the photos."

"You found those as well?" she asks.

"Yes. Everything was kind of stuffed inside a box on top of the armoire in your room. There were hats, printed wedding invitations, an envelope full of pictures. Papa  looks like this smart kid with glasses. Like a math genius or something. Why didn't you wear a long white dress?"

"Oh, I don't know. It was a country wedding. . . . I kept it simple," she sighs, impatient with me already. "I remember it was a pretty dress."

"Knee-length, full skirt. Tiny poppies embroidered here and there. Fifties-style, you know. I'm wearing it right now."

"You are?"

"It barely fits me, but it makes this whole process a bit more fun. You know, wearing something so nice."

"Alina," she sighs . . . . "are you okay doing this on your own? Do you want me to come down? I could get on the train tomorrow if you need me."

She asks this question twice a day, her voice full of dread that I'll say yes.

"No, I'm fine. You would only get in the way."

"Are you sure? I'll come if-"

"No, really. I'm actually enjoying it. It's kind of . . . therapeutic."

I don't hear anything coming from her end, so I add:

"It's like, you don't even begin to realize someone you love is really dead until you see their body go underground. It's part of the process."

"Jesus, you are morbid," she says, but I can feel her relief: she can stay in Rome.

I always knew she wouldn't have anything to do with sorting out old, forgotten boxes. Alba has never been big on remembering.

Puglia is the heel of Italy, the thinnest strip of land between two seas. Lorenzo, my grandfather, said it was exactly this-the refraction of the sun hitting the water on both sides-that made the light of Puglia so rich and warm. He had chosen to buy a house there because of it. He needed to paint in that light, he said.

Way before it was called Casa Rossa, the house had been a crumbling farmhouse-a masseria-built in the eighteen-hundreds, surrounded by a wall in the midst of an olive grove among the open fields in the countryside south of Lecce.

Meet the Author

Francesca Marciano is also the author of Rules of the Wild. She lives in Rome.

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Casa Rossa 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book as a whole and the 'story' was good but the timelines were not consistant. I found myself having to go back and check to make sure I understood when things were happening or had happened. i.e. there was a photo of Renee' dated 1940 showing how young and carefree she was. But later in the story it was said that she was unhappy and left at around the same time? There were several other timeline issues that I noticed, but like I said I still enjoyed the book so I gave it three stars.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read Casa rossa in 2 nights.Loved every page ! Beautiful ,very real story about italians.You will see love stories,amazing characters of people from Rome or tiny village in Puglia,so ,please,buy this book and enjoy it.I am looking forward to found another books by Franceska...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Casa Rossa, set primarily in Puglia, the heel of the Italian 'boot,' is a fascinating, multigenerational story with an incredible number of twists and turns. Part mystery, part social commentary, part folklore it is written with a great sense of place (be it Puglia, Rome, Northern Italy or New York) and finely chiseled characters. It moves a tad too fast at times, reflecting the author's screenwriting background, but otherwise is a superb novel.