Soul of the Border (2019) – Matteo Righetto

Releasing this week from House of Anansi Press is the English translation of Matteo Righetto’s Soul of the Border. Released in Italy in 2017, the novel became a bestseller and is now getting it’s English release.

A brisk, cinematic tale; it’s short chapters deliver a story that sees a young woman in search of her father as she struggles to keep her family alive. Set at the close of the 19th century the story follows young Jole De Boer as she learns his tobacco smuggling route from her father Augusto. They smuggle the tobacco from their government controlled harvest across the border to Austria where they sell it for precious metals, returning to Italy where they can be exchanged with food and supplies to keep their poor family alive or another year.

But when Augusto disappears, she goes on the route alone, and delves into a realm of vengeance and corruption even as she struggles to survive the hazardous and dangerous journey.

Jole discovers who she is, and the woman she is becoming through the course of her journey, which Righetto moves along with a crystalline storytelling that with his words, and images evokes a classic Western feel. The characters she encounters could easily be juxtaposed into a classic 70s era spaghetti western, and the book works as a tale of adventure, revenge and self-discovery.

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A brisk and engaging tale, the only short-coming to the tale is that it is in fact, too short. Barely breaking the two hundred page mark, the story merely leaves me waiting with bated breath to see what story Righetto shares in the sequel, The Last Homeland.

There are glimpses into Italian rule at the end of the 19th century, the way the poor suffered under their hand, and the things simple farmers had to to just to survive. The moments Jole spends with her family are just enough to make us care and worry about them, and many of the scenic moments that proliferate the chapters have continued to stay with me long after I finished the book.

A genre crossing book, Jole is a realistic and believable character that I enjoyed my time with, and was delighted to travel with her as she grew, learned and became the young woman she now is.

There are recognizable elements and tropes set in the tale, but Righetto’s use of them seems to serve the story well, and serves to highlight the character as she goes on the journey – both smuggling and into adulthood.

A quick, enjoyable read Soul of the Border is the first book in Matteo Righetto’s new trilogy is available from House of Anansi Press now!

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