When Rachel Swift arrived in Zaronza on a September afternoon, she felt a strange affinity for the Corsican village even though she’d never been there before. But then she had recently discovered that her grandmother was Corsican. That’s why she was in Zaronza… to trace that previously unknown part of her family tree.
What she discovered, though, went far beyond names and dates in old church records. What she found was a packet of old love letters and the hand-written life story of Maria Orsin, Tante Maria, who had a connection with Rachel’s ancestors.
Maria’s story is one of love and betrayal and it takes Rachel back to early 20th century Corsica and its highly patriarchal culture. A time when young women were dominated first by their fathers, and later by their husbands. An age when young women didn’t make their own decisions, run businesses or take on a professional role. This is the life rule that Maria Orsini chafed under and only with the advent of WWI was she able to truly break free of this male-dominated society. Volunteering as a nurse, Maria was sent to the front to care for wounded French soldiers. There she suffered all the horrors of war before returning to Corsica to carve out a satisfying life and reconcile with her past.
The strong, well-paced narrative of the book is told mainly through Maria’s words. The reader experiences the quiet, insulated life of the Corsican bourgeois class as well as Maria’s joys, dreams and betrayals. We meet Maria first as a young woman giddy with her first love, a little self-absorbed and naïve. As her dreams crumble, she is forced into an arranged marriage. Life circumstances then lead her to northern France, and finally back to her beloved Corsica and a life surrounded by those she loves.
Maria’s growing maturity and her struggle to become a strong, independent woman are underlying themes throughout the novel, making it not only an excellent historical fiction read, but also a revealing glimpse into the evolution of women’s rights accelerated by WWI and the roles women stepped into during that conflict.
The House at Zaronza is available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions.
Read our interview with Vanessa Couchman author of The House at Zaronza