Loved it! 😍

A story of love and survival steeped in history and the beauty of Rome.

Synopsis

Charles, a young American sculptor in Rome is drawn into the unpredictable world of Italian politics by Maria, a beautiful Italian woman. She is dedicated to the work of a subversive secret society intent on ending the temporal power of the papacy. After they marry, she is asked to assist Margaret Fuller, the famous American writer visiting Rome. Fuller falls in love with a much younger Italian aristocrat, but tries to conceal this romance from her American friends.

Repeated demonstrations protesting the rule of the new pope, Pius IX, and brutal assassination of his prime minister, results in the pope’s loss of control over the Papal States and formation of a new democratic Republic of Rome in 1849. A siege of Rome by the French army attempting to restore the papacy follows.

Charles and Fuller’s lover become part of Garibaldi’s defense of Rome. Fuller and her lover flee Rome to Florence. Charles and Maria follow and join the Fullers on their tragic return voyage to America.

An Uprising in Rome is driven by Novak's straightforward storytelling and his rich knowledge of sculpture and the city of Rome.


The narrative seamlessly follows Charles, Piero and Maria; three characters who lead very different lives in the beginning yet soon come together thanks to the strong binds of love and friendship. Their stories are turbulent and vast; thus, Novak's clever pace keeps time, focusing on the right character at the right time to ensure the narrative never loses impetus.


Although the synopsis suggests An Uprising in Rome is a love story; the love goes beyond that which passes between Charles and Maria. Novak explores how multi-faceted love is. Love can build and shatter. Love can be felt for another or for a cause; such as Piero and Maria's dedication to Young Italy. How Love can quickly contradict itself and in moments where Charles seeks to protect Maria, he simply angers her. Therefore, Charles, Maria and Piero are soon fighting to survive in the midst of stasis in Rome.


Novak's description and use of Rome as a setting is magnificent. As someone who has visited the city, Novak's dismissal of describing Rome in detail is perfect. It allows the city to house the love and struggle in this story without taking over as the city, steeped in ancient grandeur, often does. This, coupled with Novak's excellent conveyance of the civil strife which occurred after Pia Nono's ascension as the new head of the Papal States, created a narrative which delivers more than romance and history. It intertwines multiple genres (romance, thriller and historical fiction) to become a fantastic piece of literary fiction.


Subsequently, even though I am not sure if this is Novak's debut novel, I certainly hope this is not his last.

Reviewed by

I've been running my own blog for just over two years now, as well as editing the blog Free Verse Revolution which showcases the work of writers from all over the globe. I'm an avid reader and work as a freelance editor for indie publishers. I'm also an English teacher.

Synopsis

Charles, a young American sculptor in Rome is drawn into the unpredictable world of Italian politics by Maria, a beautiful Italian woman. She is dedicated to the work of a subversive secret society intent on ending the temporal power of the papacy. After they marry, she is asked to assist Margaret Fuller, the famous American writer visiting Rome. Fuller falls in love with a much younger Italian aristocrat, but tries to conceal this romance from her American friends.

Repeated demonstrations protesting the rule of the new pope, Pius IX, and brutal assassination of his prime minister, results in the pope’s loss of control over the Papal States and formation of a new democratic Republic of Rome in 1849. A siege of Rome by the French army attempting to restore the papacy follows.

Charles and Fuller’s lover become part of Garibaldi’s defense of Rome. Fuller and her lover flee Rome to Florence. Charles and Maria follow and join the Fullers on their tragic return voyage to America.


                                  Chapter One 

                                      The Prisoner



 



When Charles Grimes stepped out onto the street, the large crowd surprised him. Earlier, while moving into his new studio, the street had been empty. Now, on this hot July afternoon Romans, fresh from their afternoon riposoor siesta, filled Via Sistina. They were either gathered in groups of three or four engaged in animated conversation or reading what looked like an official proclamation posted on the wall down the street. Whatever it said, Charles knew it must be important to cause such a commotion.

          He made his way toward the cluster of people facing the posting on the wall and nudged past the excited Romans pushing, shoving, and straining their necks to get a better view of the notice. When close enough to read it, he saw an official proclamation from the new pope, Pius IX, or Pio Nono as the Italians called him. Dated July 16,1846, it announced an amnesty for all the political prisoners of Pio Nono’s predecessor, Pope Gregory XVI.

          This unexpected news astonished everyone. Anyone bold enough to oppose Pope Gregory’s government had been seized and imprisoned without a trial. And there were many. An American expatriate in Rome, Charles paid little attention to its politics, but a year ago his friend and fellow sculpture student, Piero, had disappeared. Almost certain Piero was in one of Gregory’s prisons, he could never discover where or why. Now, Charles felt hopeful he might see his friend again.

          With his belongings unloaded, he headed for the Caffé Greco, unofficial headquarters of the artists of Rome and no better place to hear the latest gossip. Perhaps someone there knew more about the released prisoners. Arranging his studio could wait until tomorrow. 

           It had been a year since he arrived in Rome, a city crammed with awe-inspiring ancient ruins and galleries packed with spectacular paintings and sculpture. Aside from the perplexing politics,an incongruity still puzzled him. This feast for the eyes existed in a maze of narrow, dirty, garbage-strewn streets where naked children played, urinated, and worse. In warm weather people spent their entire day in the streets. The mannerisms of a typical Roman were dramatic, and all conversation embellished and delivered with exaggerated histrionics. 

           Intermixed with this conflict of the senses were mothers sitting on benches breastfeeding their children or young lovers, arm in arm on the edges of fountains kissing, reinforcing the reputation of a ‘romantic’ city. Romans offered no excuses for this striking contrast of the spectacular, repugnant, and romantic. After all, no other city in the world could match its history and treasures.

           By comparison Charles’s home of Washington, the capital of the United States, had few monuments, no art galleries, plain churches, and a puritan-based culture. Comparing ancient Rome to adolescent America was impossible, but it didn’t matter. He couldn’t think of a better place to be a sculptor. 

           Heading up the street, he paused at the top of the Spanish Steps and looked down at Bernini’s fountain, Fontana della Barcaccia. He’d never liked this fountain with its marble boat. The idea of a marble boat floating in a fountain bothered him. He didn’t know why, but it did, and chuckled to himself that not liking a work by Bernini, the city’s most beloved sculptor, was tantamount to heresy.

         More beggars, vendors, and tourists than usual crowded the Spanish Steps. This opening proclamation of Pio Nono — perhaps opening salvo would be more appropriate— had sparked a wave of celebration throughout the city. He wove his way down the crowded steps and across the piazza to the Via dei Condotti and the Caffé Greco.

           When he opened the door, the boisterous voices indicated a full house, unusual for this time of day. All the seats occupied, he hoped he hadn’t missed the best of the witty conversation and latest gossip. Men standing between the tables bathed in thick cigar and pipe smoke made it difficult to see. Charles spotted his friends deep in conversation in the second of the three rooms of the cafe. They didn’t notice him as he approached and he pretended to bump into the chair of his good friend, the English painter William Smyth.

            Surprised, Smyth turned around, looked up and said, “Charles, where have you been? We’ve been here at least two hours. Have you heard the news?”

             “I was busy moving. I read Pio Nono’s proclamation. It’s hard to believe all the political prisoners will be released.”

          “But it’s true and everyone is celebrating. Sit down and join us.”

           Finding a chair in the crowded room took time, but he managed, and grabbed an empty cup from another table to join Smyth from London, and Everett Brown a fellow American sculptor. All three had come to Rome about the same time. Good-humored and a serious student of Roman history and architecture Smyth, had introduced Charles to the ancient ruins scattered throughout the city and the many hidden art treasures in the smaller churches. 

          Brown, a Harvard-educated intellectual from a wealthy Boston family, spent most of his time reading and discussing philosophy and politics with whoever would listen. It was hard to tell whether he was studying sculpture or the classics.

          Charles concentrated on his training and development as a sculptor.  He couldn’t afford the luxury of any other pursuits, but admired the wide range of interests of his two friends and mentors. His family didn’t have the means to allow him to continue school beyond the sixth grade and before coming to Rome his life had been spent as an apprentice wood carver, and then a stonemason.

          Filling Charles’s cup with wine Smyth asked, “Did you finish moving? You know we would have been there to help, but this sudden proclamation from Pio Nono demanded our immediate attention.” Laughing, Brown nodded his agreement. 

          “Yes, I managed. My landlord provided me with a cart and a young boy to help. I don’t have many things and I’m finished, no thanks to you. By now I know you enough to realize you both despise common labor.  Last week when I mentioned the move, your dead silence made it clear you had no intention helping me,” replied Charles. “Now tell me about all this excitement over the prisoner release.”

              “This changes the political landscape of the city,” began Brown. “There has been no continuation of the suppression of liberty by Pio Nono. Unlike Gregory, Pio Nono is loved by the people. I guess that’s why I feel excited and optimistic about what may happen in Rome.”

             “My best friend, Piero Cifaldi, a sculptor I met when I first arrived in the city may be among the prisoners released,” said Charles. “He began his training at Professor Morretti’s studio about six months before me. A rebel if ever there was one, he never concealed his dislike for Gregory and his policies. We became close friends when he let me stay with him for two months after I first came to Rome. I’ll never forget his generosity. He had little but was willing to share it all with me until I received my money from home. Otherwise, I don’t know how I’d have survived. 

          “Then one day he didn’t return to Morretti’s studio. That wasn’t like him. Before that, he didn’t miss a day and I never saw him again. When I asked his friends in the cafe, they would only shrug their shoulders and walk away, pretending ignorance. Finally, one day, I stopped one of his friends on the street and he reluctantly told me Piero had been arrested.”

          “Did you ever hear any more about him?” asked Brown.

          “No. But that’s when this naïve American began his education in the subtleties of Roman politics,” said Charles. 

          “What do you mean?” asked Smyth. 

          “We’re not Romans. That’s why we’re not invited to join their political discussions,” said Charles. “I haven’t said anything about this before because Piero warned me Gregory had spies everywhere, including this café. His other friends also disappeared. Spies in a cafe, artists disappearing because of their political beliefs. It would never happen at home and I had no desire to join them.”

          “The Romans surrounded themselves with an invisible wall of silence during Gregory’s papacy that I’ve had little success penetrating. Over the centuries they’ve learned to keep their political propensities to themselves during periods of repression,” said Brown.

          “I’ve had the same experience,” said Smyth. “It’s the reason for the excitement today. They like Pio Nono. We’ve heard that after the proclamation was posted they gathered in the front of the pope’s residence, the Quirinale, and wouldn’t leave until he made an appearance.”

          “This fascinates me,” said Brown. “Charles do you think you can find this sculptor, Cifaldi?” 

          “I’ve no idea where I would start,” replied Charles. “But I hope he was one of the released prisoners. I’ll never forget how he helped me and now it may be my turn to return the favor.”

          “Were you ever part of Cifaldi’s political discussions?” asked Smyth.

         “No, we only discussed sculpting. He taught me a great deal when I started my apprenticeship, and for that I’m grateful. I only remember him mentioning a man called Mazzini one night when we were with his friends here.  His admiration for him was obvious,” said Charles. “When Piero mentioned Mazzini’s name it caused an immediate awkward silence at the table until the others, all Romans, changed the subject. There were many nights when Piero went out alone and wouldn’t come home until late. He never mentioned where he’d been and I never asked.”

          “Mazzini has been writing revolutionary literature for years. That would be a good place for me to begin understanding what’s currently happening in Roman and Italian politics,” said Brown. “Let me talk to our American consul in Rome, James Winton, who follows the ever-changing politics of this peninsula and its kingdoms.”

         “I’ve been here for hours,” said Smyth. “It’s time to go home. I missed my riposotoday and the wine is making me sleepy.” The others agreed, and left the café together, each heading in different directions. 

         Walking back to his studio Charles considered the discussion at the café. He had come to Rome to study sculpture and make it his profession. Politics never interested him, particularly those of a foreign country, and did not see how it could contribute to his success.  

         Smyth had already sold many paintings to English tourists. Brown never seemed to worry about money. His wealthy family wouldn’t let him go hungry. But Charles had rent to pay and his first commission. When he reached his studio, opened the door, and stepped inside, he looked around and felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. With his apprenticeship at Professor Moretti’s studio completed, and work on his first commission about to begin, he couldn’t afford any distractions. 

****

The next morning filled with creative energy and eager to begin work, Charles unpacked his tools, all he owned, except for his clothes and the clay model of his first commission. Removing the damp cloth keeping the clay of his model from drying, he inspected its surface and found no damage. 

          In a separate room, a straw mattress for a bed with a table and two chairs left behind by the previous renter, completed his first studio and household. As meager as this was, for Charles it represented a momentous step in his life and career. 

         Everything else he created over the past year had to remain at Moretti’s studio. This would be the only example of his work to show visitors to his studio. Rome had many sculptors competing for the business of the hundreds of tourists searching for art. To compete for commissions, he needed a new body of work. 

          At least that’s the way he felt. A block of marble to carve would definitely help dissipate some of this creative energy and that’s exactly where he planned to head next.  For the first time it would be up to him to decide which block to choose, causing him a brief sense of insecurity. In the past, all decisions had been made for him in Moretti’s studio. His first client had given him the usual half-down payment up front. With no reserves, mistakes took on costly consequences never considered by an apprentice.

          The marble yards were across the Tiber River in the Trastevere section of Rome, a long, but welcome walk on this summer morning. People, eager to complete their business or shopping before the afternoon heat, filled the streets. Trastevere contained the workshops of hundreds of craftsmen plying their trades. They could be watched through the open fronts of their shops making anything from fine jewelry to cannons. Charles often lingered for hours wandering through the streets, always learning something new about tools or materials.

          Today though, nothing would distract him from his mission. He needed a marble block at least a meter and a half square. Upon reaching the marble yard, he began his inspection of the blocks that looked suitable for his commission. It took a while before he found one the appropriate size and shape. While examining the surface, a man approached. 

          “You look like you found what you’re looking for,” said the man.

          “Yes, I think this is what I need,” answered Charles.

          From that point on the man dominated the conversation, assuring him he selected one of the finest blocks of marble in his yard. Dealing with Romans always left him disconcerted. When foreigners in this ancient city had time to reflect on their purchases, they were, as a rule, unsure how they had been led from point A to point B. Centuries of negotiating experience gave locals a distinct advantage.

           Roman merchants could, as required, exude charm from every pore in their body. Even though the suspicion they were paying too much lingered in the back of their customer’s mind, at the end of any negotiation they would have the utmost confidence they were working with an expert who most certainly could be trusted. 

          Charles had good reason to be concerned. He had never made such a large purchase and if a defect lay hidden deep within this block of marble, he didn’t have enough money to buy another and make any profit on the commission. 

          He wanted to conclude this business as quickly as possible. The longer the marble merchant talked, the more uneasy he became, so he decided to agree to the purchase. Fortunately, the price was within his budget and after discussing the details of delivery, he was on his way back to his studio. 

          Walking back, he didn’t linger to observe any craftsmen. He’d never spent so much money and could only think of possible problems that might develop with this first commission. 

****

Approaching the studio Charles was shocked to see a man sitting outside the door. It took him a moment, but eventually he recognized the unshaven, dirty man dressed in rags.

          “Piero, I thought I’d never see you again,” said Charles, rushing to help him up, and embracing him.

          “And I thought I would never see anyone again,” answered Piero.

          “You’re here because of the release of the prisoners?”

          With all the bitterness he could gather Piero replied, “They set me free yesterday along with all of Gregory’s so-called enemies. They weren’t wrong. We hated the man. Our only regret is we never had the opportunity to destroy him. He cheated us by dying.” 

          “How did you find me?” 

          “Wandering through the city aimlessly I saw one of Moretti’s carvers. He told me where you had moved.”

          “Come in, come in.” Charles put his arm around Piero and helped him into the studio. “You must be hungry? Let me get you something to eat and drink. Here, sit down.” He brought him a chair and then found some bread, wine, and cheese. 

          He watched as Piero devoured the bread and cheese washing it down with long swallows of wine. His friend had lost so much weight. He remembered Piero, dark, handsome, and full of life, someone he envied because of his good looks and outgoing personality. Now he hardly recognized the drawn face with the shiny, thin, fragile-looking skin so taut over his cheekbones it looked as if they might break through any minute. The rags he wore were filthy and shredded. 

         When Piero finished eating Charles asked, “Have you been in a prison here in Rome?”

          “Yes, I’ve been in the Castel Sant’ Angelo prison since they arrested me, I think about twelve months ago. I’m not certain, I lost track of time.”

          “Were any of your friends with you?” 

          “No, I knew no one in my large cell. There were twenty of us in the cell.” 

          “What was your crime?” 

          “I was never told anything, but I had never disguised my opposition to the government of Gregory. One night they broke into my studio, smashed the furniture, tore up my drawings, and dragged me off to prison. One didn’t have to commit a crime to be imprisoned by Gregory. Any hint you either disagreed with him or talked of change and you were arrested. No trial, no notification to your family. You disappeared and if Pio Nono had not granted this clemency I would have been left there to die. Left to die with nineteen others. Left to die in a rat-infested cell with a floor covered with piss-soaked straw and a stench that made it difficult to breathe.”  

         Charles shuddered when he heard this, paused and said, “Where did you stay last night?”

         “I slept on the street. I have nowhere to go. They took all my possessions. I stopped at my studio, or what was once my studio. Everything is gone and the landlord has no idea where it might be, or if anything is even left. All this because of the great holy man, Pope Gregory.” With this the disheveled and bewildered Piero bent forward in his chair, cupped his hands over his face and began to sob softly.

         Charles knew it was time to stop questioning him. Left alone, he thought Piero might begin to shed some of this anguish. This would probably be only the beginning of ridding his soul of such horror.

        He continued to weep for at least five minutes. When he regained control over his emotions, Charles said, “I want you to take off your clothes so I can burn them. I’ll find you new ones. Wash yourself in that basin over there and then you’re going to go to my bedroom and sleep.”

        “I can’t impose on you like that. I’ll go back out on the street and somehow find a new beginning. I thought you might be willing give me some clay and a few tools. I know I can carve again. I dreamed of so many possible sculptures all those months. Those dreams were what kept me going.”

         “Let’s talk about that after you get some uninterrupted sleep,” said Charles. “I insist.”

         It didn’t take much more convincing to get Piero to bed.

****

Everett Brown was on a mission to discover more about Mazzini. As he drank his morning coffee at the local trattoria he decided the man who could get him the answers he wanted would be his friend James Winton, the American Consul in Rome.  He ordered another cup of espresso, gulped it down in one quick motion, and headed for Winton’s residence.

          Winton and Brown had both been students at Harvard College in Cambridge. Anyone who met Brown, no matter where, or on what occasion, would eventually find the conversation, often out of context, included a reference or story about his days at Harvard. Visiting with a fellow Harvard alumnus, was always a highlight of Brown’s day. 

          He was in luck. He found Winton at home working in his office. A short, handsome man about three years older than his friend, he looked up from his cluttered desk as Brown entered and said, “Everett, I wasn’t expecting you today. To what do I owe this of good fortune? Sit down, please, sit down.” 

         “I hadn’t planned to be here either, but something came up last night at the Caffé Greco.” 

          “That’s certainly no surprise. Anything can be expected at the café. What was the topic of discussion last night? I have a suspicion what interested everyone at the tables.”

          “As you surmised all the talk was about the release of the political prisoners. It turns out Charles Grimes was befriended by an Italian sculptor who disappeared about twelve months ago. Charles assumes he was one of Gregory’s prisoners.”

          “There must have been several hundred scattered throughout the Papal States. If you think I can help you find this sculptor, forget it. Pio Nono probably doesn’t even have a complete list of the names.”

          “No, that’s not why I’m here. During the conversation Charles recalled his friend mentioned the name Mazzini. I’m here to find out more about him.”

          “Mazzini. Any Roman having anything to do with Mazzini or his writings would be immediately jailed by Gregory. That’s probably what put Charles’s friend in prison.”

          “Merely mentioning the name could get you imprisoned?” 

          Winton nodded. “Gregory considered any tie to Mazzini or his ideas anathema to the Holy See. He was, and still is, an active revolutionary, bound and determined to bring about his dream of unification of Italy’s independent kingdoms. I’ve been told he’s using a secret society to expedite his plan.”

         “Is there one in Rome?” 

         “Yes, it’s called Young Italy. There’s probably more than one secret society in Rome, but that one is the personal conduit for Mazzini’s personal revolutionary ideology. Pamphlets are continually smuggled to its members. Anyone caught with one during Gregory’s rule was jailed immediately. That may have been what happened to Charles’s friend. Mazzini’s writings and exploits are complex. He’s a complicated man.”

          “Have you read any of his work?”

          “A diplomat from the British embassy showed me two pamphlets they had intercepted and translated. Brilliantly written, Mazzini never deviated from his message, the unification of Italy, but also emphasizes his belief in humanism and the value of each individual in society.” 

          “Does Pio Nono tolerate this organization Young Italy?’ 

          “I don’t know. I’m certain he’s aware it exists as did Gregory. He released all of Gregory’s prisoners, even though many were probably members of Young Italy, so he must not consider the secret society a threat. I’ve seen no evidence he’ll tolerate or recognize Young Italy in Rome.”

         “I hope Charles can find his friend. I’d be interested to hear more about this secret society Young Italy,” said Brown.

         “As would I,” said Winton. “But come, I’m tired of working and it’s mid-day. Let’s have something to eat.”

****

Piero slept for twenty-four hours giving Charles time to find clothes for his unexpected guest. His clothes would never fit his emaciated friend. It also gave him time to wonder what Piero had done to be put in prison. Yes, as Piero had said, it didn’t not take more than a suspicion someone opposed Gregory to be put in prison, but perhaps he did more? He wanted to know the full story.

          Piero eventually emerged from the back room of the studio as Charles worked on the model or maquette of his commission. He needed to occupy himself until the marble block arrived.

          “BuongiornoCharles,” said Piero who still looked haggard, but rested and almost recognizable in the clothes Charles had left for him. “I found these and assumed they were for me. Are they?”

          Charles nodded. “That’s the best I could do. You look much better. You were sleeping so soundly, I doubt anything could have woke you up.”

          “These feel like the robes of a prince after what I’ve been wearing for the past year. I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”

          “Don’t worry about that, I’m returning a favor I never forgot.”.

          “What are you working on? It looks interesting. Have you finished studying with Morretti?”.

          “Yes, and this is my first commission. My first paying job. How about that?” said Charles proudly.

           “I was ahead of you in my work at Morretti’s studio. Now you’re finished and I’ve lost at least an entire year of my life because of a tyrant posing as a cleric, the chief cleric,” said Piero. “I’m happy for you, my friend. Tell me more about this commission.”

          “I will, but first I must have a coffee. Let me walk over to the tratorria and have them bring us two. I’ll be right back,” said Charles.

           Piero took the time alone to look around the studio. He picked up the tools, one by one, turning them over in his hands. Then he looked over Charles’s clay maquette, a work much more sophisticated than he remembered of his previous work. Charles had matured as a sculptor. He was happy for his friend. 

          Then Charles returned with a loaf of bread under his arm, followed by a young boy with two coffees on a tray.

          “Come, let’s sit down at my humble table and have some bread and coffee,” said Charles who, as he spoke, noticed a fleeting emotional twinge pass over Piero’s face as his eyes became veiled with suppressed tears. He said no more giving him time to compose himself     

          After a pause Piero said, “Forgive me. This is such a shock. Being free to sit like this and do something that was once normal. I haven’t had coffee since they put me in prison. The horror has not left, and probably will not fade from my memory anytime soon. But that’s enough gloom for today. Now tell me about this elegant maquette.”

          “I have James Winton, the American Consul in Rome, to thank for this commission. I was finishing my last month with Morretti when Winton sent some tourists to see his work. Ordinarily Morretti would have never given me a chance to show my work to visitors, but I guess he decided to reward me with my apprenticeship almost at an end. It’s for a family who live in Massachusetts in America.,” said Charles.

         “It doesn’t matter how you get the work, does it?” 

         “They wanted something to remember a daughter they lost. It’s not for the cemetery. They wanted it for the entryway of their home. I decided on this young girl sitting at the edge of a pond, running her hands through the water. They liked the sensitivity of the idea. That’s how they remembered their daughter, sweet and gentle.”

          “I’m sure they’ll be happy with the sculpture. You can’t imagine how good this coffee tastes after a year of only foul water to drink. Oh, how I missed talking about sculpture.”

           “It’s time to begin your life where you left off.” 

           “I doubt if I can. The wounds are too deep. The hate I felt all that year in prison is now embedded in my soul like an iron stake driven deep into a thick oak tree. How do I pull it out, get rid of it? I can only think of one way. Destroy those who tried so hard to destroy me.”

           “Won’t the police be watching you?” 

          “Probably, but I can’t continue to live in this Papal State that refuses to allow its people to improve their lives. That’s not my idea of living. Now, that I’ve paid such a heavy price for dreaming of a better Italy, why abandon the struggle. I’m more determined than ever. I was a revolutionary before they seized me and after a year in prison I remain a revolutionary, a more passionate one. If they think they broke my spirit, they’re mistaken.”

         “What about your study of sculpture? You were the most talented student in Morretti’s studio.” 

         “That can wait.” 

         “So that was your only crime–supporting the overthrow of Pope Gregory. Nothing else?” 

         “Nothing else. That was certainly more than enough.”.

         A commotion in the narrow street outside interrupted their conversation.

         “What’s that?” 

         “I’m not sure,” said Charles as he moved toward the large door of the studio. When he pulled it open he found a team of eight oxen hitched to a wooden sled loaded with his marble block. “I didn’t expect this block to be here so soon, but that’s perfect. I can begin carving ahead of schedule.”

        During all the excitement over the next three hours it took to move the marble block into the studio, Charles didn’t notice Piero leave.

****

Rested, in decent clothes, and fueled by his first cup of coffee in a year, Piero headed to where he thought he might find his former comrades of Young Italy, that is, if any had survived. The ability to once again walk the streets of Rome as a free man was both exhilarating, and at times, intimidating. He couldn’t overcome the lingering feeling he might be stopped, questioned, and seized at any time.

        His group of Young Italians usually met in a building about half way between Charles’s, new studio and Professor Moretti’s. Piero walked down Via Sistina toward the Piazza Barberini. Crossing the Piazza, he took a moment to admire Bernini’s fountain, Fontana del Tritonewith the god Triton holding a shell to his lips, and then turned into a side street. Their meetings were held on this street, but he wasn’t sure he’d remember where. 

       The street hadn’t changed, but when he recognized the building, he thought it best to walk past and farther down the street, before stopping to look back to see if he recognized anyone or if anyone followed him.  This trepidation made him hesitate longer than he planned before approaching the building. He even considered leaving. After all, this past year of horror had its roots here.

      Then, the door of a building back up the street opened, and out stepped the only woman in his former Young Italy group, Maria. Piero admired her, as did all the members of the group. It was unheard of in Italy for a woman to be part of any men’s group, let alone, a secret society planning a revolution. 

       About the same age as he, and still as pretty as he remembered, Maria showed no signs of having been in prison. Like Piero, she came from a village in the same mountain area of central Italy south of Rome. He never asked her the name of her village, but assumed it differed little from his, another pocket of poverty-stricken peasants bound to the unproductive mountain soil. How she had broken away from her family and now lived by herself in Rome remained a mystery.  Italian women had little to say about their role and destiny in life. Somehow, she had escaped that tradition, but it was unlikely she would ever be welcomed home again.

          Maria turned right toward the Piazza Barberini. He waited to see if anyone else left the building or followed her. No one did, and he then followed a short distance behind her. When she turned east on Via Barberini and approached a narrow side street he caught up to her and grabbed her arm. 

         Maria reacted immediately, pulling her arm away and looking back in anger at the stranger tugging at her. About to shout out, she suddenly stopped. It took her a moment, but when she recognized Piero she let him lead her into a side street.  

        They continued down the street until they found a building with a deep-set, covered entryway where they could slip out of sight of the people passing by. Maria threw her arms around Piero and wept softly as she held him tight. 

       Kissing him repeatedly on both cheeks she said, “Piero, Piero, you’ve been released. How wonderful.”

       “Yes, I have a hard time believing it myself,” said Piero. “I can’t believe I found you.”    

       “And I you. You’re so thin. Where are you staying? You’re not sick, are you?”

       “Too many questions at once. Your kisses and concern bring back something absent, something taken from my life this past year. Thank you, thank you, now I know I must not be dreaming or delirious.”

        Maria embraced him once more, not releasing him from her arms for a long time. When she finally let go, she noticed the tears in his eyes, and asked him again, “Where are you staying?”

        “With a good friend, an American, Charles Grimes. Do you remember me talking about him? A fellow student I met in Morretti’s studio.”

        She shrugged, “Vaguely. I’m certain I can find you a place to stay with one of our group.” 

          “No, I want to stay with Charles for a while. Perhaps later. Were others in our group seized?”

          “Our group of twelve was reduced to six by Gregory.”

          “Have they all been released?” 

          “You are the third I know of, but it has only been two days since the release of the prisoners. Sadly, two died in prison, Luigi and Giuseppe.” 

          “How do you know that?” 

          “Donatangelo was told this by other prisoners who were released.” 

          “Now we have martyrs to avenge. I’ll never cease to fight until we unite Italy and destroy the Vatican,” said Piero, pounding his fist into the wall. 

         “We can only hope Giovanni is still alive. I’ve been walking the streets hoping to find you two. I’ve not heard anything about him.”

          “Does the same group still meet?” 

          “Yes,” we’ve changed locations several times, but we’re back on the street where you found me this morning.”

          “That’s not the building where we used to meet.” 

          “No, it isn’t, but it’s been safe. Will you be coming back to meet with Donatangelo and the group?” 

          “He’s still the group leader?”.

          “Yes, he’s even more active in Young Italy. He’s one of the leaders in Rome.”

          “The sooner I become active in Young Italy again, the better. When’s the next meeting?” 

          “Not for another week, but I’m certain Donatangelo would like to see you before then. Tell me where you’re staying and I’ll get a time and place for you two to meet.”

          “Charles’s studio is on Via Sistina about half way up the hill from Trinita dei Monti. He moved in only a few days ago, so he has no marker outside. I’ll cut a small ‘X’ into the right lower corner of the door.”

          “As soon as I arrange a convenient time, I’ll come to the studio to let you know,” said Maria.

          “CiaoMaria,” said Piero as he kissed her on each cheek before they went their separate ways.

****

When Piero returned to the studio, he found Charles carving, and startled him when he came up behind him and said, “Already working?”

          “You surprised me. I hadn’t noticed you left this morning,” said Charles.

          “I knew I couldn’t help moving the block. Getting cleaned up and wearing new clothes returned some of my self-confidence. I had to see if I could again walk about the city without fear of being seized.”

          “How did it go?” 

          “I’m overwhelmed, and intimidated in a crowded street, but I hope that changes.”

          “It will. You’ve only been free for forty-eight hours. Did you see any of your friends?” 

          “No, I saw no one. How’s the marble carving?”

          “With ease. I think I have a good block. My chisel cuts through the marble with minimal effort. What a nice feeling.”

          “I miss that feeling. I’d like to try working with clay again. Perhaps in a day or two I can see if I still have any sculptural skills left.”

          “I’m certain you do. Do you think you’re up to visiting the Caffé Greco tonight?”

          “This sudden change in my life, as wonderful as it’s been, tires me. I need rest. Perhaps tomorrow night would be better,” said Piero.

          “Fine, tomorrow night,” said Charles who resumed his carving and Piero went to lie down in the next room. He slept through the rest of the day and night.










About the author

Richard F. Novak is a physician and sculptor . There are over seventy-five of his own works in public spaces, corporate, and private collections. He has spent a year of his life traveling throughout Italy. Examples of Novak’s sculpture can be seen in the Photo Gallery section of toppingthedome.com. view profile

Published on May 16, 2019

60000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Historical fiction

Reviewed by

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