We are honored to have distinguished author and tireless advocate for mystery writers everywhere, Annamaria Alfieri, as our guest blogger today. Her newest cannot-put-down-novel, BLOOD TANGO, launching on June 25th, takes place in Buenos Aires in 1945 and imagines the murder of an Evita Peron lookalike. Kirkus Reviews said Annamaria's Invisible Country, "compares with the notable novels of Charles Todd," and The Washington Post raved, "As both history and mystery, City of Silver glitters."
Ana María de Jesús da Silva was the daughter of Benito Rivero de Silva, a minor trader on the Brazilian coast of Santa Caterina. She was seventeen and betrothed to a wealthy landowner who was ten years older than her father.
Enter Giuseppe Garibaldi, a blond, blue-eyed, dashing Italian. (An aside for those who read Leighton’s August 8, 2011 post on this subject: yes, Garibaldi was born in Nice, which was French on the day of his birth, but had been Italian and would be again during his lifetime. One of Giuseppe’s beefs about governments, the one that made him a life-long republican, was the practice that kings and dukes could trade a plot of land and change the nationality of its citizens at will. He wanted Italy to be a Republic so that its citizens would always be Italians. And he saw to it that it became one. But that’s another story. Let’s get back to that Brazilian woman.)
Here are Garibaldi’s words about how he fell in love with Anita (the diminutive for Ana). Giuseppe was thirty-one at the time and fighting as a sea captain for the republican cause of Rio Grande do Sul in its attempt to separate from Brazil. A disastrous sea battle had drowned his companions, other exiled Italian republicans who had been fighting at his side.
“The loss of Luigi, Eduardo, and the others of my countrymen had left me utterly desolate. I felt quite alone in the world. Of all the friends who had made those desolate regions like home to me, no one was left….In short, I needed a human heart to love me—one that I could keep near me. I felt that, unless I found one immediately, existence would become intolerable.
“Pacing up and down the quarter-deck of the Itaparicia, wrapped in my own gloomy thoughts, I came, after trying every sort of argument, to the conclusion that I would seek for a woman so as escape from a weary and intolerable condition.
“By chance I cast my eyes toward the houses on the Barra, a tolerably high hill on the south side of the entrance to the lagoon, where a few simple and picturesque dwellings were visible. Outside one of these, by means of a telescope I usually carried with me on deck, I espied a young woman, and forthwith gave orders for the boat to be got out, as I wished to go ashore. I landed, and making for the houses where I expected to find the object of my excursion, I had just given up hope of seeing her again when I met an inhabitant of the place whose acquaintance I had made soon after my arrival.
“He invited me to take coffee in his house; we entered, and the first person who met my eyes was the damsel who had attracted me ashore. It was Anita…We both remained enraptured and silent like two people who met for the first time and seek in each other’s faces something which makes it easier to recall the forgotten past. . . At last I greeted her by saying, ‘Tu devi esser mea .’ (‘You have to be mine.’) I could speak but little Portuguese and uttered the bold words in Italian. Yet my insolence was magnetic, and I had formed a tie, pronounced a decree, which death alone could annul.”
Hot stuff, huh? I told you he was Italian!
Six weeks later, Anita stole out of her father’s house and rowed out to Garibaldi’s ship in the dark of night. They honeymooned onboard. She fought beside him in ensuing naval battles. When their ship was about to go down after an attack, he shot the dying, and she helped him torch the bark as they and the other survivors fled to shore.
After that defeat, they joined the republican land troops and fought in the jungle of interior Santa Caterina. When that province was lost to the young Brazilian emperor, Anita and Giuseppe went on to fight in Rio Grande do Sul. Pregnant with their first child, Anita remained behind the lines, but she took charge of the rebel army’s ammunition supply. While delivering munitions to the front, she found herself surrounded by the enemy and tried to flee on a horse. The animal was shot out from under her, and she was taken prisoner. But she managed to escape across a desert and rejoined Garibaldi eight days later.
Even after giving birth to her first child—Menotti, she found no peace. Hidden out in a farm house with Brazilian troops all around her, and half naked, she took her fifteen-day-old infant, leapt on horse, and escaped into the forest where she hid until Garibaldi came to rescue her.
That republican dream soon died when Rio Grande do Sul capitulated. Goncalves, its rebel leader, gave Anita and Giuseppe 900 head of cattle in thanks for their brave service. They drove the herd before them to Uruguay. They had been together for two years when they were married in Montevideo. There Garibaldi became a school teacher and in addition to Menotti , Anita bore him Rosita in 1843, Teresita in 1845, and Ricciotti in 1847.
There were four thousand Italian families in Montevideo at the time. When the city was put under siege by Rosas, the Argentine dictator, Garibaldi put together a force of Italians to help defend the city.
In 1848, Garibaldi took his red-shirted legionnaires back to fight in the Italian republican revolution, which he seems to have been born to lead. Anita and the children went with him, and she joined him in February 1849 in defending the ill-fated Roman Republic against a siege by Neopolitan and French armies. She was pregnant and battling a bout of malaria when Rome fell to the combined forces of French and Austrian occupiers. She fled with the Garabaldini and, at a farm near Ravenna, she died in Giuseppe’s arms on the 4th of August.
Though Garibaldi went on to become a world-renowned hero, he loved Anita and revered her memory to the end. In 1860, like a victorious knight astride his horse (that she had taught him to ride), he went to hail for the first time Victor Emanuel II, King of united Italy. On that singular occasion, he wore his lady’s favor—Anita’s striped scarf—and the gray poncho of her South American heritage.
Annamaria for Leighton—Monday