About this book
Soul of the Border
Mountain Trilogy: Book 1
Matteo Righetto • Howard Curtis
A story of revenge and salvation that follows a young woman who seeks the truth behind her father’s disappearance, Soul of the Border is the first novel in a trilogy set between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late nineteenth century.
Every year, Augusto De Boer undertakes a treacherous journey through the Italian Alps, smuggling tobacco across the border to Austria. With conditions getting harsher, he decides to take his fifteen-year-old daughter Jole along with him, teaching her how to navigate the perilous crags and valleys while avoiding hostile customs officers and nocturnal beasts.
Three years later, Jole must retrace their steps alone as her father has not returned from the border. With only her horse for company, she makes her way across the stark mountain landscape in an epic journey of violence and corruption.
Augusto and Agnese had three children. Jole was born in 1878, Antonia in 1883, and Sergio in 1886.
Physically and emotionally, Jole was just like her mother, which was probably why she loved her father above all. She almost always tied her blonde hair in a long plait that fell between her shoulder blades. She was thin and had large eyes of indeterminate colour: at times they seemed as green as a larch grove in summer, at others as grey as a wolf’s winter coat, at others still as blue-green as an Alpine lake in spring.
More than anything else, Jole loved horses and even as a little girl walked barefoot through woods and impassable paths just to see them. To satisfy her passion, especially in summer, she was capable of leaving in the morning and not returning until just before sunset. There were two places where she could see them: to the north, on the pastures of Rendale, where there were many nags that followed the shepherds and their Foza sheep, and to the south, on the ridges of Sasso, where many carthorses were used to transport marble from the quarries.
She liked all horses, whether they were light-footed stallions or heavy farm animals. As a child she would look at them in awe, her big eyes open as if to capture a dream, a piece of magic.
Her sister Antonia liked to wear her hair short, and Agnese cut it for her twice a year, with old iron scissors, taking care not to prick her because tetanus was less forgiving than hunger. Antonia would help her mother in the house, and she liked making things to eat with what little there was. She, too, was often in the woods during the summer. She went there to listen to the cries of the wild animals and smell the pleasant aromas of the trees.
She would collect in an old tin can the resin secreted from the bark of the red firs and take it to her father, who would knead and mould it into hard little balls, useful for lighting the fire in the stove. Augusto, though, would always leave a little for Antonia, who used it to protect flowers or particularly beautiful insects from the ravages of time, thus adding them to her collection.
But Antonia did not only collect resin. She also gathered wild strawberries, raspberries, and elderflowers, with which her mother made an excellent refreshing juice mixed with water from the river.
It was the big river down in the valley that was the favourite spot of the youngest of the De Boers. Often Sergio would walk through the wood that stretched to the east of Nevada and sit down on the edge of the cliff over the Brenta Valley, and from there look down and listen to the sound of the river as it descended towards Bassano del Grappa and then, further still, onto the Venetian Plain. Sergio was skinny and fair haired. He was never still, he was the one who spoke most of all of them, he was not quiet for a second. As a joke, his mother and his sisters always said he spoke double because as well as his own voice he had taken on his father’s.
All three children, though, apart from living their days with the ardour, the dreams, the blessed unawareness of every little girl or boy of their age, worked hard in the tobacco fields alongside their parents: it was a fate that nobody was allowed to avoid.