In the fields around Tuscany in summertime, sunflowers grow in profusion—wave upon wave of gold and green standing tall against the Italian sky. But for Signora Maria Ferraro, the bright yellow blooms carry only bitter memories. Though she loved them as a child, sunflowers have come to represent the most painful episode of her life. Not even her cherished daughter, Anabella, knows what happened to her during World War II, when the Germans overran her hometown of Florence and Signora Ferraro fell in love with a Resistance fighter. In the aftermath of loss and grief she found salvation through an unlikely source—cultivating roses on her farm in the Tuscan countryside. Now the blossoms symbolize everything that is both good and safe, and she nurtures them with as much care as she guards her past.
Yet to Anabella, the rose farm that once delighted her has become little more than a pretty prison. Despite her beautiful surroundings, Anabella longs for more. During one of her regular visits to Siena to sell their flowers, Anabella encounters a handsome young artist named Dante Galletti. His canvases are filled with images of a girl who looks just like Anabella—and Dante claims to have seen her in his dreams, running through a sunflower field. Through Dante, Anabella begins to see sunflowers, her cloistered existence, and the world itself through new eyes. As their relationship deepens, Anabella knows she will soon have to choose between loyalty to her mother, and the risks and rewards of living on her own terms.
Alternating between the viewpoints of both mother and daughter, and between Italy during World War II and a quarter-century later, The Sunflower Girl is a poignant and moving story of the choices we make in the name of love, and the secrets that echo through generations.
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Pienza, Italy, 1950
Six-year-old Anabella Ferraro's world was filled with beauty. Wherever she looked, roses in every hue surrounded her. There were the softest shade of pink roses, creamy white roses, deep red roses, orange roses that resembled the copper sunsets over Tuscany, and her favorite of all — exquisitely vivid yellow roses. She giggled as she skipped among the rows of flowers on her mother's sprawling rose farm. Mamma always clipped a few just for Anabella, which she would hug to her chest as she carried them to the house, inhaling their sweet fragrance.
Only Anabella and Mamma lived in the house on the vast property they owned. PapÃ had been taken by the angels to heaven — the other paradise. Mamma had told Anabella that their beautiful home was their paradise on Earth, but there was another paradise even more stunning, where Papà now lived. A place where Anabella could eat all her favorite foods like pane con cioccolato, pasta Bolognese, zuccotto cake, nocciola gelato, and torrone. It was a place where no one was ever in pain. A place where Anabella could run anywhere she wanted to, not just on the land that encompassed their property.
There were days when Anabella would be sad, wishing Papà were here, even though Mamma continually reminded her he was with her.
"Your papÃ is always with you, even though you cannot see him. He is always watching over you and protecting you. Remember that, Anabella."
But Anabella was confused. How could her father be with her and watching her if he wasn't here with them? She wanted to be able to hear his voice rather than imagining what he sounded like. And instead of merely seeing him in the old photographs Mamma kept on her dresser, Anabella wanted to be able to kiss his cheek and play with his eyeglasses. She wanted to be able to crawl into his lap and press her head up against his chest as his heartbeat lulled her to sleep, just as she did every night with Mamma.
Mamma assured Anabella that someday, the three of them would all be reunited in this other paradise. Sometimes, Anabella stared up at the sky and talked to Papà . She usually spoke to him about her favorite roses and what she was learning from Mamma. She also spoke to the roses when she was out in the gardens alone. She thought of them as her friends who played with her when her mother was too busy or when the workers on the farm had gone home for the day. She even had names for them. Only Cioccolato knew that she spoke to the roses. But that was all right. Cioccolato wouldn't tell anyone — for he was her chocolate Labrador retriever and her best friend, second to Mamma. Mamma didn't seem to mind though that Cioccolato was her other best friend.
Unlike the rest of the children in her village of Pienza, Anabella didn't attend school, even though it was just on the opposite side of the fence that hemmed in their rose farm. Mamma told her she could teach Anabella everything she needed to know. Anabella was content. After all, Mamma was her best friend in addition to her parent. And that was all she needed, as her mother always reminded her. Still, she couldn't help but be drawn to the school yard as she was today. She put her face up against the wire diamond shapes that made up the fence and stared at the schoolchildren who were having their recess. The yard had a playground set, which is what captivated Anabella the most. The children screamed and pushed one another out of the way as they tried to reach the playground's slide and swings. Anabella wondered what it would be like to go down the shiny slide that always caused the children to squeal in delight and to fly high up into the air on the swings. Maybe she could get closer to Papà in the sky if she went on one of those swings.
Anabella had been so absorbed in her reverie that she hadn't noticed the boy who came over until she felt something hard hit her head. Startled, she looked up and saw the boy standing up on a small wooden box so he could reach over the fence and continue his assault of throwing pebbles and small rocks at Anabella. She covered her face as she cried out. Within seconds, her mother came running over.
"Cretino! Vai via!" Signora Ferraro insulted the boy as she yelled at him to go away.
The boy narrowed his eyes at her as if he were about to cry and then rejoined his classmates on the playground.
"Vieni, mia bella figlia. Come, my beautiful daughter. Neither that boy nor anyone else will bother you again."
Anabella let her mother lead her away by the hand. She snuck a sideways glance toward the playground. She could see the boy who had thrown the rocks at her was chasing another boy as they laughed. Anabella was now far away in his thoughts, and she wondered why he had decided to hurt her. Did he not like the way she looked? Or maybe he didn't like that she was staring at him and the other children?
After that day, Mamma didn't let Anabella play outside during the time that the school had their recess.
"You can go out later around four o'clock. It won't be too hot then, and the sun will still be out for a few hours," Mamma had told her.
Anabella was an overly obedient child and rarely, if ever, questioned her mother's judgment. Mamma knew best and was teaching her everything not just in their homeschool lessons, but also in the garden. Mamma also explained to Anabella what she would need to know as she grew older and became a big girl someday.
One afternoon, Signora Ferraro had an emergency in the gardens and had left Anabella alone to finish her lunch. Usually, Signora Ferraro ate lunch with Anabella and then caught up on a few chores before going out to the gardens to finish her work there. Anabella had no idea that her mother was afraid to leave her unattended during the hours when the school had their recess and when it was time for the children to go home.
Anabella was playing with Rosa, her favorite doll. She loved braiding her hair and coming up with new ways to make Rosa even more pretty than she already was. Mamma had given Anabella the doll for her sixth birthday this year. And ever since that day, they had been inseparable. An idea came to her. She had seen in one of her fairy-tale books an illustration of a princess with a beautiful wreath of roses on her head. Excited, Anabella ran outside, forgetting that her mother had forbidden her to go out until four o'clock. When she stepped outside, at first, she ignored the sounds coming from the school yard of the children laughing and screaming. She was absorbed in pulling the roses from the bushes that Mamma had planted here just for Anabella so she could enjoy them and take a few of the flowers for herself if she wanted.
She held the roses against her chest and began to walk toward her house when something shiny caught her peripheral vision. She turned toward the school yard and saw a large dollhouse. Its metal exterior gleamed in the sunlight. And the house was painted bright red, just like the roses that Mamma grew and sold the most. Red must be a lot of people's favorite color, Anabella guessed. She gasped when she saw a little girl emerge from the door in the house. She had no idea the house was for little girls and not dolls like her Rosa. The girl held a doll. It had blond hair but did not look as beautiful as Anabella's Rosa. Another girl giggled as she entered the house, but instead of entering it through the door that the first girl had come out of, she went around to the back of the house. Anabella could see her walking through the house as she passed the windows. Anabella went up to the fence to get a better look at the dollhouse. Maybe Mamma could buy her one for her birthday next year. But that was still a long way off.
"Ciao. Come ti chiami?"
Anabella jumped, remembering what had happened the last time someone was standing on the other side of the fence. It was one of the young women she'd seen watching over the children when they had recess.
"Anabella." She glanced down at her sandals, noticing her toes pushing out well past the soles. She wondered when Mamma would take her into town to buy a new pair. Her heart leaped at the thought for she always enjoyed any outing they took.
"What a beautiful name! My name is Signorina Ducati. I am one of the teachers at the school." She waited to see if Anabella would say something, but Anabella continued to look down at the ground. Signorina Ducati noticed Anabella was clutching a few roses to her chest. Something about the sight made her heart twist a little. The girl looked so forlorn — unlike her students who were full of energy and didn't seem to have a care in the world. Not that the child looked unhappy, but she sensed there was a certain unrest in her.
"Where do you go to school, Anabella?"
Signorina Ducati frowned for a moment before realizing what the little girl meant.
"You don't go to school, do you? That is why you are home today?"
Anabella finally looked up. She pointed to the sprawling house that stood behind her, past the beautiful rose garden. "My school is in there. At home. Mamma teaches me."
Signorina Ducati nodded. She strained her head to see if Anabella's mother was anywhere in sight. She spotted her in one of the rose gardens, working alongside a few men.
"Would you like to come play with the other children, Anabella?"
Anabella glanced at the dollhouse. The girls who had been playing with it were now gone. She could explore it all on her own. She looked up at Signorina Ducati and nodded.
"We'll have to ask your mother first. Can you tell her to come here?"
Anabella ran off. She was going to get to play in the big dollhouse — and Rosa, too! She couldn't wait. She ran even faster. The sooner she found Mamma, the sooner she could explore all the wonderful things the school yard had. Maybe she could even go on the swings and fly high up in the air and talk to Papà .CHAPTER 2
Signora Ferraro was tending to a cluster of yellow roses that had been infested with thrips. Hopefully she could treat them effectively and she would not lose the flowers.
"Mamma! Mamma! The teacher wants to talk to you."
"Calmati, Anabella. What are you talking about? Is this another one of your imaginary friends?"
Anabella blushed. It was true she had made up a few friends, but she only spoke to them when she thought she was alone. Mamma must've heard her. She shook her head.
"Then, what are you talking about, my dear child?" Signora Ferraro regretted asking her daughter about her imaginary friends once she saw her cheeks turn as crimson as some of the roses she grew.
"The teacher from the school on the other side of our fence. She came to talk to me and asked me if I wanted to go play. Her name is Signorina Ducati."
Signora Ferraro frowned. How dare that woman approach her daughter?
"Are you mad, Mamma?"
"No, no. That is all right. Let us go talk to Signorina Ducati."
Anabella smiled. She ran ahead. Signora Ferraro did her best to quicken her pace. Though she was only thirty-five years old, she was often sore from all the crouching and bending she did on the rose farm. She had a few workers employed on the farm, but she loved to do as much as she could herself. Tending to the roses had saved her life many years ago, and she felt the most at peace when she was caring for them.
The teacher was waiting on the other side of the fence, watching the schoolchildren. Anabella ran up to the fence and pointed to her mother. For a moment, Signora Ferraro cringed at what she must do, but she could not falter. As Anabella's mother, she knew what was best for Anabella.
"Buongiorno, signora," the teacher called out to Signora Ferraro as she made her way toward the fence. The teacher smiled. She was an attractive woman, but her hand did not display an engagement or wedding ring.
"Buongiorno." Signora Ferraro nodded her head in the teacher's direction. "How can I help you?"
"My name is Signorina Ducati. I am the head teacher at the school."
"Piacere, signora. I'm sorry to call you away from your work. Your garden is breathtaking."
"Grazie." Signora Ferraro did not offer more, for she did not want to encourage the teacher with pleasantries.
Signorina Ducati cleared her throat. "I've noticed Anabella on a few occasions watching the children during recess, and I asked her if she wants to play with them."
"But she is not a student of your school, Signorina Ducati. I thank you, but that won't be necessary." Out of her peripheral vision, Signora Ferraro saw the smile Anabella had had a moment ago quickly turn into a huge pout, and her eyes widened as if asking why. Signora Ferraro's heart tightened, but no matter how much her daughter was hurting, she would not be swayed.
"It would be no trouble at all, Signora Ferraro, and it would do her good to be around other children her age. Anabella tells me that she doesn't attend school and that you teach her at home."
"Si." Signora Ferraro couldn't resist a curt tone for she knew what was coming.
"The school is public as you know, so it wouldn't cost you any money to enroll Anabella. I'm sure you have your hands beyond full as it is with the farm."
"This is none of your concern, Signorina Ducati. Please excuse me for being direct, but my daughter's welfare is no one's business but my own. I can assure you she is receiving as good an education with me at home — if not better — as she would be in your school."
"Of course, Signora Ferraro. I meant no offense. Will you at least allow her to come play in the school yard?"
Signora Ferraro followed Signorina Ducati's gaze, which fell on Anabella, who was now holding on to the fence, her face pressed up against it as she observed the children playing on the playground set.
"Grazie, Signorina Ducati, but I cannot allow my daughter to be out of my sight."
"I, and the other teachers, would be watching her."
"Again, thank you for your kind offer, Signorina Ducati, but we really need to return to the house. It is time for Anabella's nap." She pried Anabella's hand from the fence. "Vieni, Anabella. It's time to sleep."
Anabella looked down at her sandals, disappointment clearly etched across her features.
"Ciao, Anabella," Signorina Ducati called out to her, but Anabella ignored her.
"Perhaps another day, Signora Ferraro?"
The teacher was quite persistent, she would give her that. But what Signorina Ducati didn't know was that Signora Ferraro was even more persistent, especially where her convictions and her daughter's welfare were concerned.
"Buongiorno, Signorina Ducati," was all she said.
Signora Ferraro held on to Anabella's hand tightly, lest she break free from her grip. But she did not have to worry. It was rare that Anabella rebelled. She had been an exceptionally obedient child, even as a toddler. Sadness began seeping into Signora Ferraro that she was causing her daughter pain, but it was for her own good. Everything Signora Ferraro had done since she first learned she was pregnant with Anabella had been in her best interest.
"I'm not sleepy, Mamma. Can I just go play in my room?" Anabella looked up at her mother with her big brown eyes that often made Signora Ferraro lose her resolve and give in to whatever her beautiful daughter wanted.
"You have to nap first, Anabella. How will you grow up to be a big girl if you don't rest? Ah? You can play after you sleep. I'll play with you, too."
Her daughter was not lonely. She had her, Cioccolato, and the workers on the farm, who had become an extended family to Anabella. True, Signora Ferraro knew they were not other children, but her daughter was content. Besides, on a few occasions she'd witnessed those children be absolutely wicked to one another, just like the day she found that boy throwing rocks at Anabella. They would be nothing more than a bad influence. She would not have her daughter corrupted by those unruly brats.
"I'm sorry, Anabella. I know you wanted to go to the school yard, but it's not safe. Those swings go up too high, and you can fall off of them and break your legs. How would you help Mamma in the gardens if that happened? Or run with Cioccolato? You have all you need in our home — Cioccolato, Mario, Carlo, and Chiara. And of course, our beautiful roses. The other children don't have all of this, and I feel very sorry for them."
Anabella's eyes roamed over toward the rose bushes that surrounded them on either side as they made their way back to their house. But what about other little people like her? Like the children in the school yard. It was true that Cioccolato, and Mario, Carlo, and Chiara — the farm workers — were also her friends, but ever since she began noticing the schoolchildren, she had wondered what it would be like to talk to them and play with them.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Sunflower Girl"
Copyright © 2018 Rosanna Chiofalo.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Table of Contents
PROLOGUE - The Sunflower Girl,
CHAPTER 1 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 2 - Signora Ferraro,
CHAPTER 3 - Dante,
CHAPTER 4 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 5 - Signora Ferraro,
CHAPTER 6 - Maria Rossi,
CHAPTER 7 - Dante,
CHAPTER 8 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 9 - Dante,
CHAPTER 10 - Signora Ferraro,
CHAPTER 11 - Maria Rossi,
CHAPTER 12 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 13 - Dante,
CHAPTER 14 - Signora Ferraro,
CHAPTER 15 - Maria Rossi,
CHAPTER 16 - Dante,
CHAPTER 17 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 18 - Signora Ferraro,
CHAPTER 19 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 20 - Maria Rossi,
CHAPTER 21 - Dante,
CHAPTER 22 - Maria Rossi,
CHAPTER 23 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 24 - Signora Ferraro,
CHAPTER 25 - Maria Rossi,
CHAPTER 26 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 27 - Maria Rossi,
CHAPTER 28 - Signora Ferraro,
CHAPTER 29 - Maria Ferraro,
CHAPTER 30 - Signora Ferraro,
CHAPTER 31 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 32 - Dante,
CHAPTER 33 - Anabella,
CHAPTER 34 - Signora Ferraro,