Le streghe, il boia e il diavolo
A historical novel
448 pages, € 20.00
The witches, the hangman and the devil
1613, Roveredo, Canton of the Grisons, Switzerland. The local hangman executes a thief in Valle Calanca. Three days later, the executioner is found dead. It’s a mystery. Without its minister of High Justice, the municipality of Mesolcina falls prey to brigands, usurers, witches and wizards that wreak havoc in the valleys. Anxious to restore order, the judicial authorities hire a new hangman from the land that border the Three Leagues.
The newly appointed minister of High Justice is a mysterious, macabre and yet bewitching character, standing at the edge of a world that is reluctant to let him in. A prostitute in Roveredo – a woman with a troubled past, but proficient in the healing arts – will present the executioner with sensations he has never felt before. Little by little, his very soul and conscience break down: is his craft even useful for human society? Are the sentences issued by the Court of the valley fair and just?
Scorched Earth is a historical novel with a twist. Its tone shifting from exhilarating to intimate to deeply moving, the book straddles the fine line between fiction and reality. The plot revolves around four actual trials that took place between 1613 and 1615; their records, deposited at the municipal archives, have been translated by the author into contemporary Italian. Real names, historical figures, age-old traditions, strange jinxes, heinous crimes, brutal tortures, nonsensical superstitions and gross injustices: a real cultural treasure trove, hidden in the Archives, that sheds light upon the European (and, specifically, Swiss) folklore and customs of the 17th century.
In 2016, while Mottis was still in the process of writing it, Scorched Earth earned him the recognition of Professional Artist, bestowed by the Cultural Promotion Organisation of the Canton of the Grisons.
Born in 1975, he studied Italian literature and Byzantine archaeology at the University of Freiburg, receiving his Licentiate of Arts in 2001. He currently teaches History and Italian in several middle schools in Roveredo and professional schools in Giubiasco.
Since 2000 he has published six books, including Sentieri umani (“Human paths”, 2000); Un destino, una nostalgia (“A fate, a longing”, 2003); Il boia e l’arcobaleno (“The executioner and the rainbow”, 2006); Oltre il confine e altri racconti (“Beyond the line and other tales”, 2010); Altri mondi, (“Other worlds”, 2011); and his first historical novel, Fratelli neri. Storia dei primi internati africani nella Svizzera italiana (“Our black brothers. A chronicle of the early African internees in Italian Switzerland”, 2015).
Since 2005 he has also been the director of the drama company “Siparios”. Mottis also lends his linguistic expertise to the Swiss radio broadcast “La consulenza” (“Expert advice”) on Rete Uno.
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