The Scent of Rosa's Oil

( 5 )

Overview

Set in the beautiful port city of Genoa, Italy, at the turn-of-the-century, The Scent of Rosa's Oil is a magical story that attests to the strength of longing, the consequences of betrayal, and the nostalgic memories only a one-of-a-kind fragrance can evoke . . .

The only home Rosa has ever known is the Luna brothel, where she's lovingly cared for by Madam C and all the women who work there. Madam C shelters Rosa from what really goes on at the Luna by telling her they play a ...

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The Scent of Rosa's Oil

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Overview

Set in the beautiful port city of Genoa, Italy, at the turn-of-the-century, The Scent of Rosa's Oil is a magical story that attests to the strength of longing, the consequences of betrayal, and the nostalgic memories only a one-of-a-kind fragrance can evoke . . .

The only home Rosa has ever known is the Luna brothel, where she's lovingly cared for by Madam C and all the women who work there. Madam C shelters Rosa from what really goes on at the Luna by telling her they play a game with the men who visit. Naturally, Rosa is curious and can't wait until she grows up so she can also play the game.

But when a twist-of-fate forces Rosa to leave the Luna after her sixteenth birthday, she goes to stay with her new friend Isabel, an old woman who distills oils. The strange smells and smoke that emanate from Isabel's shack have deemed her a witch to the locals, but only Rosa sees a lonely, tender woman with a passion for making beautifully-scented oils. Enchanted by the intoxicating fragrances around her, Rosa becomes Isabel's apprentice, learning the art of extracting a flower's essence and selling the oils in the town square.

Soon everyone in Genoa is talking about the pretty, young girl with the lush locks of red hair who sells aromatic oils in the piazza. Some say she has the oil to cure whatever ailment one has, while others say her oils will capture the heart of a special person. Indeed, Rosa has learned Isabel's secret for creating her own "perfect oil"--a unique fragrance that holds a mysterious power.

Now Rosa needs a miracle to make Renato, the man she has fallen in love with, see past the ugly rumors he's heard about her and the Luna brothel. Disguising herself with a black wig and dabbing her special fragrance on her wrists, Rosa sets out to win Renato. But how long can Rosa keep her true identity hidden? And when destiny intervenes, challenging their love in unforeseeable ways, they'll need a magic even greater than the scent of Rosa's oil. . .

A timeless, moving tale, The Scent of Rosa's Oil transports readers on an enthralling, unforgettable journey. . .

Born and raised in Genoa, Italy, Lina Simoni has resided in the US since 1988 with her son Tommaso. Currently she divides her time between Genoa and Manhattan. She has a doctorate degree in a scientific field and is an artist with gallery shows in the US and Europe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Simoni's juicy debut is the story of Rosa, a young Genoan woman born to a prostitute and orphaned at birth in the late 19th century. Her guardian is Madam C, the proprietor of a much-loved brothel called the Luna, who shields Rosa from "the game" played on the second floor of her house. But for Rosa's 16th birthday party, she wears a special perfume distilled by her peculiar friend Isabel, and before the evening's over, the mayor, enchanted by the scent, ends up playing "the game" with Rosa. (Rosa, unbelievably, doesn't realize what's going on nor has she ever seen a naked man before.) When their tryst is discovered, Madame C, who has pined for the mayor for years, hurls Rosa onto the street. The orphan seeks refuge with Isabel and hides her born-in-a-brothel past from her new beau, longshoreman Renato (who is also susceptible to Isabel's perfume), but when Renato's life and their love are threatened, Rosa must decide what truths are worth the risk of losing him. Though parts of the story feel pat and the dialogue is often stiff, most of this light, whimsical romance's flaws are forgivable. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

Simoni's juicy debut is the story of Rosa, a young Genoan woman born to a prostitute and orphaned at birth in the late 19th century. Her guardian is Madam C, the proprietor of a much-loved brothel called the Luna, who shields Rosa from "the game" played on the second floor of her house. But for Rosa's 16th birthday party, she wears a special perfume distilled by her peculiar friend Isabel, and before the evening's over, the mayor, enchanted by the scent, ends up playing "the game" with Rosa. (Rosa, unbelievably, doesn't realize what's going on nor has she ever seen a naked man before.) When their tryst is discovered, Madame C, who has pined for the mayor for years, hurls Rosa onto the street. The orphan seeks refuge with Isabel and hides her born-in-a-brothel past from her new beau, longshoreman Renato (who is also susceptible to Isabel's perfume), but when Renato's life and their love are threatened, Rosa must decide what truths are worth the risk of losing him. Though parts of the story feel pat and the dialogue is often stiff, most of this light, whimsical romance's flaws are forgivable. (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780758219244
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 1/1/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Born and raised in Genoa, Italy, Lina Simoni has resided in the US since 1988 with her son Tommaso. Currently she divides her time between Genoa and Manhattan. She has a doctorate degree in a scientific field and is an artist with gallery shows in the US and Europe.
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Read an Excerpt

The Scent of Rosa's Oil


By LINA SIMONI

KENSINGTON BOOKS

Copyright © 2008 Lina Simoni
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-1924-4


Chapter One

Genoa, 1910

Madam C was combing Rosa's hair when a stray gust of wind forced its way into the caruggi, the old downtown streets, passageways so narrow sunlight hardly reached below the level of the rooftops. The three panes of the front window of the Luna, the brothel Madam C had owned for nineteen years, shook lightly under the wind's attack. Set deep in the labyrinth of the caruggi, five blocks from the harbor, halfway down Vico del Pepe, the Luna spread over three floors of an ancient building of slate and stone that had withstood wars, storms, and the furtive erosion of sea salt. Inside, on the first floor, eight feet from the window, Rosa was seated on a stool in the corner of the dimly lit parlor, her thick, curly crimson hair loose down her torso and her neck bent slightly backward. Behind her, a wide-tooth comb in hand, stood Madam C, long-boned and slender, wearing a loose robe of pale yellow silk tied softly around her waist with a sash. Her hair, raven, with only sparse, barely visible threads of gray, was gathered in two braids rolled about her ears and fastened at the top of her head with a pearl clip. Free of makeup, her eyes had no glow. She sank the comb into Rosa's curls and gently pulled down. "Ouch!" Rosa yelped.

"Be patient, Princess Rosa," said Margherita, one of the nine Luna girls. She was ensconced in an armchair at the opposite corner of the parlor, near the front door, slowly turning the pages of an oversized, leather-bound book. She lifted her eyes for a moment, sniffed the air, then shook her head and resumed her reading.

"Rosa's hair is such a jungle," Madam C said. "And the more I comb it, the more entangled it gets."

"You say that every time." Rosa giggled.

"Your curls have a life of their own," Madam C continued. "We all know what happened on that Sunday I decided to trim them."

Rosa's first and only haircut had become a legend at the Luna and one of Madam C's favorite anecdotes about Rosa's life. She'd tell that story whenever a new girl arrived, on birthdays and anniversaries, and every time someone stared at Rosa's curls in awe. Rosa was born bald, the story went, with a smooth, healthy scalp that shone like a rainbow in the sunlight, and stayed bald for two months before her hair started to grow at an amazing speed. By the time she was eight months old, Rosa had a headful of rebellious red curls. By her first birthday the curls reached below her shoulder blades. On a quiet Sunday morning, while all the Luna girls were still asleep on the second floor, Madam C sat a cheerful, smiling Rosa on one of the parlor armchairs and took a pair of large scissors out of a drawer. "Here we go, little Rosa," she chanted. "We'll make you so beautiful no one will be able to stop looking at you." And then, she cut five centimeters off a strand of Rosa's hair. At once Rosa began to scream. She screamed, and screamed, and screamed, louder than she had ever screamed before. Awakened by the shouts, several girls came running down the stairs to find Madam C standing like a statue, openmouthed, a lock of red hair in one hand, the scissors in the other. Rosa was still screaming. "You poor child," Esmeralda said, picking up Rosa and patting her on the shoulders.

"She looks awful," Madam C noted. "We must finish this haircut, one way or another."

"I'll hold her in my arms," Esmeralda said, noticing that Rosa had calmed down. "You go ahead."

At that, Madam C cut a second strand of hair. Rosa let out a screech so loud the girls cupped their hands over their ears and grimaced at each other.

"It took three girls to hold Rosa down," Madam C said the first time she told someone the story. "It took the strength of five girls to keep Rosa from bouncing all over," she said on a following occasion. In the third version, all nine girls were on top of Rosa while Madam C completed the haircut amidst the child's heart-wrenching screams. "We'll let this hair grow as long as it wants to," Madam C told the Luna girls when finally Rosa's hair was all even. "Obviously Rosa can feel it, like a skin." The hair stopped growing when it reached Rosa's waist. With monumental patience, Madam C had been untangling it once a week ever since.

"Almost there," Madam C said, noticing Rosa's edgy motions on the stool, then suddenly lowered the comb and scrunched her nose. She said, "What is this odor?"

"I thought I smelled something a moment ago," Margherita said, without lifting her eyes from the pages, "but I can't smell it now."

Madam C said, "Come here."

Unhurriedly, Margherita closed the book and set it gently on the floor. It was a book of poetry. Its beige parchment pages contained a collection of famous love poems Margherita had copied in her best handwriting over the years. There were twenty of Petrarca's sonnets from Il Canzoniere, passages of Dante's Paradiso where Beatrice appeared, the poem Giacomo Leopardi had written for his Silvia, and many more.

Born into a middle-class family, Margherita had discovered poetry by accident in her late teens, on a Saturday afternoon, while she was strolling along a tree-lined street with her aunt Genia, the austere older sister of her father. At a certain point, Margherita and Aunt Genia came across a man who stood on a bench, reciting words from a booklet in the direction of a closed window. Margherita stopped and listened, moonstruck by the sounds, entranced by the rhythms of the man's voice. Shyly, when the man stopped talking, Margherita asked him what those words he had recited were, and the man explained that they were ancient love poems written by Francesco Petrarca out of love for a woman named Laura. "There's a maiden behind that closed window," he added, pointing up. "I tried everything to win her heart-presents, flowers, music. Nothing worked. Poetry is my last resort."

The following day, at the end of Mass, Margherita approached Father Marcello, the sixty-year-old priest who had administered her first Communion and assisted her during her confirmation. "Are there any books of poetry in the church library?" she asked.

Father Marcello couldn't hide his surprise. "You don't know how to read," he said. "What would you do with poetry books?" "I'd like to be able to read them someday, Father. And write, too. Will you teach me? Please?"

Her reading lessons with Father Marcello began the next day, without her father's or Aunt Genia's knowledge, both of them convinced that the purpose of Margherita's daily church visits was to pray. It wasn't long before Margherita, a fast and disciplined learner, thirsty for the sounds of the poems, was able to sit in the church library and read. She had Father Marcello point out to her the books of poetry and devoured them with the passion of a scholar. The meaning of the verses she read, however, was obscure. "I'll be glad to help you with the interpretation," Father Marcello told her, "as long as you help me play a special game." To explain the game, Father Marcello grazed her neck and breasts with his fingers several times.

Aunt Genia walked into the library one day while Father Marcello had Margherita on his lap and his hands under her skirt. The poetry books were open on the table in front of them, and Father Marcello was reading verses aloud while Margherita, still as a statue, stared at the written words with empty eyes. Without a word, Aunt Genia grabbed Margherita by the collar and took her home. "Get out of my house!" yelled Margherita's father once Aunt Genia had explained the situation to him. "Seducing a priest? Our family is disgraced!"

It would take Margherita years to rid herself of the memories of the priest and her unforgiving father. Her love for poetry remained, together with another heritage of her church days: in the peace of the centuries-old library, breathing the pungent perfumes of incense and burning candles, she had learned to associate a man's touch and display of pleasure with the words of illustrious poets. She could never undo that association. At the Luna, before undressing, she read twelve lines of poetry to her clients. The only place where she could read or write poetry was the brothel. Some of the Luna clients avoided her; others were bewitched. Those who were bewitched loved her routine: she kept incense and candles burning in her room; she had the man lie on the bed fully clothed and with his eyes closed; she sat on the floor, by the bed, her leather-bound book open to a chosen page. Then she read, and as she slowly whispered the twelfth line, she ran a soft hand over the man's mouth.

That afternoon in the parlor Margherita had been choosing the poetry she would read later on, during that night's celebration. She stood up and walked toward Madam C, realizing only then that she had smelled an unusual fragrance herself, all day long, in various rooms of the Luna. Meanwhile, a second Luna girl, Stella, appeared at the top of the stairs, her only clothing a shiny blue petticoat. She came down in lazy steps, dragging her feet. "Someone woke up," Rosa said, glancing at Stella from the stool.

"Barely," Stella yawned as she reached the parlor and headed for the counter at the north wall. She poured anisette in a stemmed glass, then dipped her lips in the liquor and grazed them with the tip of her tongue.

"Don't you two smell a strange odor in this room?" Madam C asked.

Margherita shrugged. "Maybe."

"It must be the wind," Stella said, setting her elbows on the counter and her chin on her cupped hands. The wind had been blowing since dawn, steadily with sudden gusts, as it often does along the coast of Liguria, enraging the sea and coating the streets with dampness. It was a southwesterly wind, the libeccio.

"The libeccio smells like wet paper," Madam C said, shaking her head. "This odor reminds me of apples."

Stella spoke in the grave voice she reserved for her worst omens. "When the libeccio blows, bad things happen."

Madam C shook her head again. "You and your superstitions."

"Scoff all you want," Stella said. "That's the way it is."

By the window, Margherita pushed aside the flowered curtain that hid the parlor from the street. "The libeccio blows for three days," she said, looking outside, "and drives everyone crazy."

"This hair is driving me crazy," Madam C said, pulling down the comb stuck in Rosa's hair.

"Ouch!" Rosa yelped again.

"Don't complain, Princess Rosa," Margherita said with a smile. "It's your big day. I can't believe you're sixteen!"

"Does that mean you're going to treat me like a woman?" Rosa asked, straightening her neck and stretching her legs to touch the floor.

Madam C slapped her softly on the head. "No."

Smoothly, Rosa stood up and twirled around, making a pinwheel of her topaz-colored pleated skirt of gabardine. "Look at me. Do I look like a child?"

Rosa had looked nothing like a child for the past eight months. At the onset of fall, as the haze of summer had faded, letting in clearer and crisper air, her breasts had sprouted in a hurry, putting to test her corsets; her torso had taken the shape of an hourglass; her facial features had softened; and her slate-blue eyes had turned aquamarine. Everyone had caught sight of Rosa's changes: Madam C, the Luna girls, and the men and women in the street, who had begun to take notice of Rosa when she walked by. No one had ever spoken of those changes on any occasion. As for Rosa, it was common belief at the Luna that she had only vague notions of her body. They had explained to her when she was little that what men and women did at the Luna was a game, like the one the Romero kids played with three cards out in the street, except that at the Luna the girls were much smarter than the boys and the boys always lost their bets. No one had ever revised that explanation.

"No," Margherita said. "You don't look like a child today."

"Well, then," Rosa said, "let me do it."

Madam C looked at her with hard eyes. "We went over this already, and the answer is no."

With a pout, Rosa sat back on the stool.

"There goes that smell again," Madam C said, sniffing around. She placed her nose on Rosa's hair. "Is that you, Rosa?"

Hands on her hips, Rosa said, "Maybe."

Stella came over from the counter, and she and Margherita sniffed Rosa's hair three times. "I think it is Rosa," Stella said after a moment. "How did you get this smell on you?"

"I'll tell you if you let me do it," Rosa said, looking Stella in the eyes.

Margherita rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "How did she get so stubborn?"

Rosa shrugged.

"She didn't take after her mother," said Madam C. "Angela was a sweetheart."

"Then she must have taken after her father," Stella stated with a half smile.

Pursing her lips, Madam C gave Stella a stare. "Who has the guest list for tonight?" she asked.

"I bet her father was a sailor," Margherita said with dreamy eyes, "who fought storms and sharks and giant whales, and that's why she's so stubborn."

Stella pushed up Rosa's chin with her index finger. "No way. With this delicate profile, I bet Rosa's father was a prince. Well, a marquis at least. British."

"A British marquis? Don't get your hopes high, girl," said a laughing Maddalena, the latest addition to the Luna, walking in from the street with a rectangular cardboard box kept closed by a ribbon of pink organzine. "With that shine on your skin and that crazy hair of yours, you have Gypsy blood, like me." Turning to Madam C, she added, "And there's a man outside, who wants to come in."

"Not today," Madam C said, reaching for a piece of paper with the words Closed for Private Party written on it. "Hang this on the door, Maddalena, and send him away." She stood still in the middle of the parlor. "This odor ..."

"He was a British marquis," Stella said. "I know it."

"Let's drop the topic, please," Madam C ordered in a dry voice. "Get the rest of the girls down here." She clapped her hands. "Let's go."

Stella didn't move. "It's not a good day for Rosa's birthday party."

Everybody said, "Why?"

"It's Friday," Stella explained, "and last night I had a bad dream."

"Enough of this witch talk!" Madam C snapped, raising her voice.

Rosa stood up and bowed. "We're having the party, and my father was a British marquis who sailed around the world and then joined the Gypsies. Happy?"

She had spoken jokingly, but with a tinge of sadness in her eyes. The discussions about her father were not forbidden in that house, though they were normally carried out upstairs, in the girls' rooms and the corridor, and never when Madam C was in sight. But on that day of mid-April, between the bewitching howls of the libeccio and the excitement for the upcoming party, the tongues of the Luna girls were restless.

"What you call witch talk," Stella said, "is mere precaution. Dreams come for a reason. And in my dream there were dead goats and a house on fire."

"What does that mean?" Rosa asked.

"Goats represent prosperity," Stella explained. "And a house is a place where people come together. A house on fire is a sign of hatred."

"I don't hate anybody," Rosa said with a smile. She turned to Madam C. "But if you keep hurting me with that comb ..."

Madam C dipped her fingers in Rosa's hair and fluffed it twice. "All done, dear. And don't you worry about Stella's goats. You'll have a prosperous life, and we all love you to pieces."

"Any last minute birthday wishes?" Margherita asked.

Rosa shook her head, wishing quietly and with all her heart that Angela were there, to help her with the party and be the one to comb and fluff her hair. "How can you love so much someone you've never met?" she had asked Maddalena earlier that day.

"Love is strange, dear," Maddalena had replied. "The elders in my family used to say it's a Gypsy spirit that wanders endlessly about the earth touching people's hearts as it passes by. True or not, it's a fact that love can play major tricks with your head. But you shouldn't worry about loving Angela, because we all know that she loved you madly before you were born."

"Sometimes I can feel her next to me," Rosa had added. "I talk to her as if she were in the room."

"Maybe she is in the room with you," Maddalena had whispered. "We don't really know what happens to people after they die."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Scent of Rosa's Oil by LINA SIMONI Copyright © 2008 by Lina Simoni. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A reviewer

    Near the end of the nineteenth century in Genoa, Rosa was born to a Luna brothel prostitute who died in childbirth her father is an unknown patron of the facility. Madame C raises Rosa as her own with the help of her girls. However, they hide from the youngster what is going on upstairs in the house of ill repute although Rosa wonders about the 'the game' upstairs played by men and her aunts.------------- On her sixteenth birthday, Rosa¿s friend Isabel the witch gives her a magical perfume to wear at a party Madam C is throwing for her. That night the Mayor caught by the essence plays 'the game' with Rosa when Madame C catches them, she angrily blames her ward and tosses Rosa out of the only home she has known because the mayor was the older woman¿s dream intended. Isabel takes Rosa in and soon afterward the teen finds a boyfriend longshoreman Renato, but hides her past from him. However, when she learns that she risks Renato's life and their love with her lies and omissions, Rosa must decide whether she should tell her beloved about being raised in a brothel.--------------- This is an entertaining coming of age turn of the century romance starring a likable protagonist. Fans will enjoy the heroine¿s abrupt rush to adulthood following Rosa¿s olfactory tryst. Although at times Rosa¿s escapades seem to obvious for someone growing up in a brothel and moving in with a witch, historical romance readers will enjoy Lina Simoni¿s fine aromatic tale.------------ Harriet Klausner

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