Maria’s mother passed away when she was seven and her father sent her to a convent to receive an education and become a nun. Now she is almost twenty years old and is spending some time with her father, stepmother and siblings in the country, staying away from a cholera epidemic in the city. There, Maria experiences the freedom of being outdoors, enjoying the sun, the flowers and the fresh air, as well as the joys of the family life that have always been neglected to her. And yes, in those days she also finds love, a new feeling that some days brings her sadness, and others fills her heart so deeply she can hardly believe it’s real.
However, all good things come to an end and, when it is safe to return to the city, Maria has to return to the convent. But once you have tasted a glimpse of happiness, how can you come back to a cage, knowing that you will never be allowed to fly free again? Trying to fight against her own feelings, this young nun writes to a confident who lived in the convent with her in the past, and her missives are so profound and heartbreaking that have brought tears to my eyes.
Beautifully written, this short novel is a journey in a roller coaster of emotions, from the little joys of life, which this young protagonist has never known before, to the despair of being locked against her will, letting go of the love she found and the future she, for a moment, dared to dream. The book is also a criticism of the religious standards of the time: Maria asks her correspondent why God creates all the beautiful things only to deprive His wives of them.
I’m not afraid to compare this Italian classic with my beloved Stefan Zweig, for these two authors can create female characters who are hard to believe they are not real. I felt really moved by Maria and the dichotomy she faced – whether to experience love for a brief moment and then be aware of its absence for the rest of your life, or to live oblivious to what could have been; empty, but perhaps happier. Who can answer to this?