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Call Me Softly (Chiamami sottovoce)

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Original Language: Italian | 190 pp. | April 2018

2 Seas Represents: Dutch rights.

HISTORICAL FICTION

It’s spring, but snow still dresses the top of San Gottardo, a stone monument overlooking the small Swiss village of Airolo. The Maison des roses is still there, surrounded by a multitude of centuries-old fir trees. Many years have gone by, but opening the wrought-iron gate of her childhood home is enough for Nicole to be inundated by the perfume of wild primroses, which takes her back to memories of a past that she thought forgotten and buried.

It’s 1976 and Nicole is eight, hanging between reality and fairy tales, with the mountain spirits lighting lanterns to cast light on imaginary worlds. Nicole has a secret. Nobody but her knows it, but close to her home lives Michele, who’s nine and is not allowed to stay in Switzerland. Michele is a forbidden boy: he crossed the border concealed in a Fiat old banger, working his imagination to draw snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes in his head. Michele lives in a bleak, cold attic with his fears as his only friends, and a few pencils to draw colourful rainbows on the wall. His parents have set clear rules: “Do not laugh, do not cry, do not make noise.” But children don’t dread adults’ bans, and Nicole and Michele become friends: together they sneak out to walk in the woods and look for the first stars when the sun goes down. That’s until the light in the attic gets switched on by mistake, the drawings of the two children melt in the snow, and Michele’s marks get lost in time. Since that day, Nicole carries with her an unforgivable guilt and feels like living in a suspended time, struggling to find some freedom for her heart.

Call Me Softly is the story of a disrupted friendship and of an undisclosed secret, but it’s also the story of how life gives anyone a second chance. It’s a powerful novel about a forgotten chapter of our recent past: a novel on the obstacles of love, which sometimes has to travel winding roads before it can put together the pieces of a broken life.

Nicoletta Bortolotti works with Mondadori Children and several other publishers as editor, copy editor and ghostwriter. She has published the novels E qualcosa rimane (Sperling & Kupfer, 2012), winner of the Carver prize, and Il filo di Cloe (Sperling & Kupfer, 2007). She is also author of YA novels, including Sulle onde della libertà (Mondadori, 2013), winner of the Comoinrosa prize, and In piedi nella neve (Einaudi, 2015), winner of the Premio Cento and shortlisted for the Premio Bancarellino in 2016.