Cesira is a peasant woman from the Ciociaria region southeast of Rome. The widow of a Roman shopkeeper, she has continued to run the shop since her husband’s death. Selfish, shrewd, and strong-willed, Cesira has concern only for herself and her eighteen-year-old daughter, Rosetta. When the war comes she welcomes it, because in wartime food becomes scarce and expensive. Before long, she and Rosetta are doing a thriving black-market business with the flour, eggs, hams, and potatoes they are able to get from the farmers in her home village and other country places near Rome. Sometimes she says to her daughter that she hopes the war will continue several more years, to provide the young woman with a trousseau and a dowry.
When the Germans occupy Rome and Allied bombing raids begin to threaten the city, Cesira and Rosetta flee to the Ciociaria hills. At first, they plan to live with Cesira’s parents, but then they hear that the village has been evacuated, and they are forced to settle at Fondi, where they live for a time with a slatternly woman named Concetta, her husband, Vincenzo, and their two deserter sons, Rosario and Giuseppe, who are hiding from the patrols that are scouring the countryside for men to be sent off to work in Germany.
This refuge proves unsafe; Cesira overhears Concetta describing her plan to buy her loutish sons’ safety by turning Rosetta over to the Fascist bravos. Mother and daughter then flee to Sant’Eufemia, a small village high on the mountain, overlooking the valley. There they live for the next nine months in circumstances of...
(The entire section is 647 words.)