The Brunis are tenant farmers in Italy’s Po Valley at the start of the 20th century. They frequently make their barn available to vagrants and travelers in need of shelter. One particularly cold winter night, a travelling storyteller claims that the sighting of a golden goat in the mountains foretells disaster, a prophecy met with mixed reception.
As the family continues with their daily lives, a war flares up in central Europe. Soon the Bruni boys find themselves forced to leave and fight in Italy’s service. Separated from each other, the seven brothers are sent to various fronts, each of them destined to experience his own horrors. War takes its toll on the family, as does the peace that follows. Despite the long separation, the family settles into old habits and old grudges. The end of the war is followed by a heated political climate in Italy, and the rise of fascism begins to affect everyday life. Marriages, births and deaths ensue as industry and politics change the fabric of Italian life indefinitely. Then, on the heels of all this change comes another world war.
This epic novel boasts several entertaining characters. One cannot deny the endearing charm of the Brunis, with their cultural and familial quirks, but the overwhelming size of the family, while appropriate for the time and place, reduces the intimacy needed to carry the reader through a time period that has been exhausted from every angle. The narrative style jumps from one family member to another at random, robbing the tale of some much-desired momentum. Despite these minor shortcomings, A WINTER'S NIGHT manages to entertain and enlighten. It also accurately frames, in the manner of a folk tale, the extraordinary upheaval that families in in this time period were forced to endure. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the period.