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Augusto and Agnese had three children. The oldest of the DeBoers children was Jole, born in followed by Antonia in and Sergio in The autumn she was 16, Jole made the journey over the mountain with her father for the first time, their mule Rufus loaded down with 80 kilos of tobacco. It was an exciting and scary trip for her, for the most part without incident, and she felt like a real part of the family machine, ready and willing to do her part in all aspects of the farm needs.

The following autumn Augusto went alone and did not return. The next three years without Augusto were very rough and the spring and summer's work was almost impossible, but with autumn of the third year Jole had a small stash of fine tobacco and a hand tamed wild pony to replace the missing Rufus. And thus began her first solo journey over the mountains to deliver their surplus tobacco and find out what happened to her father.

An excellent story, well told, peopled by characters you want to know. I am pleased to recommend this historical novel to friends and family. I received a free electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley, Matteo Righetto, and Pushkin Press in exchange for an honest review.

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Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. It's worth the wait, I promise! Oct 23, Jackie Law rated it liked it. Soul of the Border, by Matteo Righetto translated by Howard Curtis , is set in the remote and diminished village of Nevada near the alpine border between Italy and Austria. Here the De Boer family have lived for generations, eking out a living growing tobacco on the steep valley terraces.

By the end of the nineteenth century the border has been moved, the land changing from Austrian to Italian rule. The high quality tobacco grown in the area is strictly monitored and purchased by the Soul of the Border, by Matteo Righetto translated by Howard Curtis , is set in the remote and diminished village of Nevada near the alpine border between Italy and Austria. The high quality tobacco grown in the area is strictly monitored and purchased by the monopolistic Royal Tobacco Company. Augusto de Boer is married to Agnese. They have three children: Jole, Antonio and Sergio.

Each must work relentlessly to grow the crop that keeps them from starvation. The threat of famine and illness have driven many in the region to abandon their land and seek fortunes elsewhere. To make life a little easier for his family Augusto has found ways to hide and process small quantities of their crop. Following the main harvest he will traverse the mountains and cross the dangerous border to reach the mining towns in Austria.

Here he trades his smuggled tobacco for minerals that the exploited miners sneak out from below ground in their bodies. He brings home the valuable silver and copper that he may trade them for food and livestock.

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It is a dangerous business as customs officials roam the border lands intent on punishing those they regard as robbing The Crown and their wealthy acolytes. When Jole turns fifteen Augusto decides that she will accompany him on his dangerous journey that someone else may learn the route through the mountains.

Several years later, when he has not returned home from a smuggling trip, she sets out with tobacco to make a trade and find out what happened to her beloved if taciturn father. What she learns on this journey will change her forever. The book is written in three parts. The first sets the scene and explains how the family lives. The second and longest part covers the journey Jole makes, the dangers encountered and the people she meets. The final section details her attempt to return.

The perils encountered at home and away are both natural and man made. The plot progression is, at times, slow with unremitting dangers described in detail, only some of which are actually encountered. There are depictions of the poverty experienced by those whose harsh and poorly rewarded work ensures the wealthy continue to live in comfort. Balancing this bleak outlook is the beauty of the mountains and their natural inhabitants, although these can, at any moment, become life threatening.

In many ways this is a timeless tale of mass exploitation to generate wealth for elites.

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By establishing and then strictly enforcing borders and laws, to remove hope of improvement for workers, there will naturally be those who turn to subversion. Augusto and then Jole force themselves to face fear and danger for the love of their family. The risks they take may feel worthwhile but ultimately the personal cost is high.


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The writing is well structured with keen portrayals of time and place. The premise of the tale may not not be original but it is vividly told. Non si spreca nulla e si usa ogni regalo che la natura dona.

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E' passato molto tempo da questo fatto che ha messo a dura prova la resistenza della famiglia De Boer, la Jole ha imparato il mestirere di capofamiglia, ma decide anche di impratichirsi con quello del contrabbando, un mestiere che ebbe origine per indigenza. Il libro parte con la descrizione delle condizioni di vita di quegli anni e dei protagonisti del racconto, un impatto prepotente sul lettore. Lentamente ci si inoltra verso un tragitto selvaggio, fatto di privazioni e rischi che ha come unica ricompensa una vita dignitosa.

Mi piace leggere storie di anime.

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Poco importa di chi sia, a chi appartenga. Si toccano lungo una linea che io, uomo, ho tracciato, ma non possono e non devono avere lo stesso padrone, al di qua e Mi piace leggere storie di anime. Ok, ma prova a spiegarlo a un fiore, a un albero, all'aria, al sole. Le frontiere esistono solo per l'uomo, e secondo il pensiero di Augusto De Boer, padre della Jole protagonista di questo romanzo, "Le vere frontiere, sono quelle tra prepotenti e poveri cristi, tra chi si sollazza di cibo e potere e chi invece patisce la fame e deve spaccarsi la schiena per un pugno di polenta.

Ma questo avrebbe cambiato lo spirito della frontiera? May 21, Franca Pelaccia rated it it was amazing. Soul of the Border is set in the remote village of Nevada, Italy near the Austrian border during the late nineteenth century. Augusto De Boer grows high-quality tobacco on the steep valley terraces of the Alps as his ancestors before him, but his crop is monitored by the Royal Tobacco Company that underpays Augusto. In order to survive and provide for his family, Augusto puts tobacco aside and smuggles it into Austria through the perilous Alps to avoid customs officer who shot on sight.

In Soul of the Border is set in the remote village of Nevada, Italy near the Austrian border during the late nineteenth century. In exchange for the tobacco he gets metal that he sells for food. In order to find answers about his disappearance and provide for the impoverished family, Jole undertakes the journey on her own.

Soul of the Border is a complex and beautifully written novel. The writing is sparse and clean but powerful and evocative. It is lyrical, its brief chapters reminding me of poetry. The characters are representative of their condition and time, God-fearing hard workers with no education but to survive they are stoic and emotionless.

They snap into vivid life with descriptive and precise prose. The terrain is harsh, complex, and dangerous but as vivid as any of the human characters. Soul of the Border is compelling and immersive. It illustrates the strength of the human soul as it confronts challenges and evils without question.


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  • Reviewed for the Historical Novels Society May 02, Paul Pessolano rated it it was amazing. Augusto De Boer lives in the Italian Alps with his family. He is a poor tobacco farmer who is at the mercy of whichever regime is in power.

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    He finds his only hope of survival is to sell some of his product in Austria. He decides that it is time for his oldest daughter of fifteen, Jole, to accompany him. This works out fine until Augusto goes alone and disappears for several years. She embarks on a smuggling trip to sell tobacco.