416 pages, Euro 21,00
An extraordinary, visionary chronicle of the secret history of the 1600s, The Enchantresses recounts the end of an era: an archaic and savage time, ruled by love and revenge and loss, filled with the presence of two outstanding women, both saints and witches. This tale, based on solid historical foundations, unfolds at the frantic pace of a thriller, between the Swiss valleys, the Como countryside and the Duchy of Milan.
How many incredible lives have been washed away by the tide of the centuries? How many secret stories are only remembered by the mute testimony of the places they unfolded in – old taverns, decrepit chapels, ice-cold courtrooms, nunneries, asylums, umbrous valleys, the silent hollow of the caves?
With The Enchantresses, Carlo Silini offers an extraordinary and visionary chronicle of the untold stories of the late 1600s, thus completing the trilogy of Il ladro di ragazze (“The Girl Snatcher”, 2015) and Latte e sangue (“Milk and Blood”, 2019).
Writing at the frenzied pace of a thriller, the author unveils the mysteries of an archaic and savage time, ruled by love and revenge and loss. Two outstanding women, saints and witches at the same time, dominate a story that unfolds through the fierce, tameless nature of the Swiss Vallemaggia (Ticino), the countryside of Como and the great Duchy of Milan, under the yoke of the Spaniards.
Bargniff, a strange man sentenced to death, a vulgar thief and swindler, sits on the block just seconds before receiving the executioner’s blow. The convict starts telling the incredible stories of Maria del Maté, the young muse that inspired the carnivals of Milan, and of Maddalena di Buziis, the “witch Madonna” of the Swiss bailiwicks. Nobody believes him. His tale, however, hints at the existence of the legendary Brigade of the Fields: a commune of hopeless and dreamers, tracked down by ruthless persecutors who hunt witches and create their own saints.
With his lively style, intriguing characterizing and skilful plotting, Silini takes the reader by the hand along the captivating paths of a solidly historical novel, based on in-depth documentary research. The reader is moved, chilled, amused and outraged, in a brilliant medley of opera buffa and tragedy.
“The discovery of some ancient, hidden stories gave me the inspiration to write”, explains Carlo Silini. “Every day we walk down streets and look at places, without knowing what happened there in the past. And such stories are incredible, often soaked in blood, back from a time when the poorest had to pay the price. My aim is to give a voice to these buried stories, to the people who lived through a time of misery and brutality, suffering unspeakable injustices, especially women”.
“Mí sun de Milán” began Bargniff. He uttered the name of his city slowly, with infinite respect, hardly pronouncing the “a”, and unleashing the magic of the word, Milán, on the simpleton of the countryside – people who had never been to the capital of the Duchy, but who had heard stories of the magnificence, the luxuries and the oddities of the City from their fellows who had gone there to work as porters, chestnut sellers, or (in the days when the Plague raged) as corpse carrier.
“I know everything about the world, I know nothing about God. But I met two special women, and they have changed my life. You know what? If I’m here today, waiting for the executioner’s blow, it’s their fault. Vaccaladra!”.
He paused for a moment, perhaps to search the crown for someone. He didn’t find the person he was looking for. He sighed and looked up to the sky, shaking his head in dismay.
“Signur, Signur! Why did I of all people have to meet them?” he asked a grey cloud moving over the Nebbiano. He looked again at the populace, spat on the ground a second time, and began his tale.
“I loved them both. And I hated them both. They made you feel like that. All you had to do was to look at them, and…”. He didn’t finish his sentence.
“One was a saint, the other was a witch.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in Mendrisio, Carlo Silini is editor-in-chief of the daily Corriere del Ticino. In 2015 Silini won the Swiss Press Award, the most important Swiss journalism prize, for the category Carta stampata, and in 2017 for the category Local. Il ladro di ragazze (“The Girl Snatcher”), his first work of narrative, has remained at the top of the charts in Italian-speaking Switzerland for months. The same success came in 2019 for the sequel Latte e sangue (“Milk and Blood”). The Enchantresses, his latest novel, is the final chapter in the trilogy, published by Gabriele Capelli Editore.
Carlo Silini – THE INTERVIEW
«Adventures, mysteries and sorcery in the Insubrian Seventeenth Century».
Carlo Silini talks about his third and final installment of the famous literary series, «Le ammaliatrici» (The Enchantresses).
By Mauro Rossi
Following the success of Il ladro di ragazze (The Girl Snatcher) and Latte e sangue (Milk and Blood), Le ammaliatrici (The Enchantresses) is now available in bookstores. This is the third and final chapter of the successful literary saga, published by Gabriele Capelli, that Carlo Silini dedicated to the 17th century history of Ticino and its turbulent history, with a focus on the relationships between the then Swiss Bailiwick, the Duchy of Milan and the Catholic Church in full Counter-Reformation fervor, but also on the mixture of violence, inequalities and complicated human and social relationships that were characteristic of the period. We spoke with the author.
What does The Enchantresses have to offer us in terms of Ticino seventeenth century, as this was extensively explored in the two preceding novels?
«All and nothing. The period’s historical and even mythical background was already outlined in the previous books, where I tried to work behind the scenes of a well-known tale of the Mendrisiotto – that of the Mago di Cantone – but also investigating a historical chapter that is almost ignored today, that of the Convent of San Giovanni in Pedemonte in Como, which was one of the most important inquisitorial centers of the time. Therefore, I have developed the geographical question more, shifting it further south, and entering 17th century Milan where there is a myriad of stories that merit further investigation».
«The Accademia dei Facchini della Valle di Blenio (Academy of Porters of the Blenio Valley), a genuine association that did not exist, as it may seem, as a working corporation, but rather as a group of intellectual goliards and artists who nominally referred to the low seasonal laborers who came from the Blenio Valley, but also from the Verbano valleys to Milan to do the most humble jobs (marronai, monatti, facchini, in fact). It was an group that today we would define as «underground» in the Milan of the Counter-Reformation – therefore rather puritanical and moralistic – and could be found in taverns and social gatherings, where people wrote and recited joyful poems by mimicking a dialect that sounded like that of the Blenio Valley – but was not. This is one of the many stories that connected Ticino – or rather, the Swiss bailiwicks south of the Alps – to the Duchy of Milan, and on which I chose to expand the discussion, focusing on a phase of the seventeenth century in which, probably, the aforementioned group no longer existed».
However, this extension of the geographical scope of the saga is not limited to Milan and the Blenio Valley – whose role, by the way, is also important for another element that the reader will discover – but also to the Maggia Valley…
«True: while in the first two books I focused mainly on the current Mendrisiotto and Comasco, in this one I wanted to start from Vallemaggia, from Cevio and from the spectacular small grottos behind the parish church of San Giovanni, the splüi, natural shelters that were created after a landslide centuries ago. This is for two reasons: because these places fascinate me, but also because, while doing research for the novel, I discovered that some time ago a 17th century health booklet was found in Vallemaggia. It contained a series of recipes, magic formulas, and herbal supplements to cure any illness of the body or the spirit: from gout to impotence to demonic possession, etc. This is the large book I am writing. This is the big book that Bargniff, the male protagonist of the novel, always keeps with him».
While set in the same time period as The Girl Snatcher and Milk and Blood, there are a couple of occasions throughout The Enchantresses that the novel’s time period is one «in which an era is ending.» How come?
«Because during the last decades of the seventeenth century, a period in which this trilogy closes, a new way of reasoning begins to take shape, even within the Catholic Church – and I refer especially to the high echelons of the Vatican – which is no longer that of the war against witches, of the campaign against the so-called «wicked». In fact, in those years, the fight against evil moved to a more sophisticated terrain where the enemies were heretics and Protestants. And here are the first instances of the Enlightenment that would emerge a century later through a different analysis of everything related to the world of the supernatural. In practice, not only witchcraft but also holiness itself and the false holiness phenomena began to be studied and decoded with a methodology similar to that with which we deal with «fake news» today. In fact, manuals of inquisition were created in order to demolish the idea that certain behaviors had to be traced back to the action of the devil or, vice versa, that specific actions are an absolute index of holiness. So much so that the last trials for witchcraft held in Milan dealt with the phenomenon of «false saints» or «living saints» as they were called, among which the last one was a certain Lucia Gambona of Gentilino».
From a narrative point of view, can we say that, compared to The Girl Snatcher and Milk and Blood, The Enchantresses, is a less historical and more of an adventure novel?
«Yes, the in-depth historical study was more evident in the first two chapters of the saga – partly because there it was a question of investigation and making people understand a world that I was discovering and trying to make readers discover. Here I was able to break out more in pure fiction.»
How difficult was it?
«It was really much easier. The only complicated thing was ending the trilogy. Because you have a responsibility to the characters you’ve created, but also to the reader who perhaps has special high expectations. However, from a storytelling point of view, everything is faster here, for those who write and probably also for those who read, exactly because you no longer have to reckon with and explain a lot of the historical and social aspects already addressed in the previous books.»
The Enchantresses, it says, closes definitively the story tied to its characters. However, this novel too, like the previous ones, has an open ending….
«I do not know if it is really an open ending. As far as I’m concerned, it isn’t – but I also said so at the end of the first and second book. In actual fact, I think I’ve concluded the trilogy and if I have left some windows open, I have not done so for the sake of being able to carry on with this theme tomorrow, but because one of the essential elements of the three books is magic, a level that you cannot explain. In all the three novels there are some aspects that are not resolved precisely because they are part of the world of magic and mystery. And this also happens in the third part of the saga».
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