The Tuscan Healer
Original title: La segnatrice
In 1944 a young healer and a German officer cross paths in Tuscany’s Garfagnana valleys against the backdrop of real historical events.
The Tuscan Healer offers a window into the world of traditional female healers, contemporary “witches” who use herbs and rituals to help improve people’s health. These practices still exist in Italy today.
Anna, the main character, is a young healer. The story unfolds in the Garfagnana towards the end of World War II. As the allies are closing in, the Germans start sensing their inexorable defeat and, to the very end, hunt down the resistance groups that are hiding in the hills. Anna is aiding the partisans, but falls in love with the German lieutenant Matthias von Bauer who, while still faithful to the Nazi cause, also falls in love with her. Matthias’ heart has been broken by two huge disappointments. He had felt abandoned twice: first by his own brother, who had deserted from the army, and then by his wife’s betrayal.
The novel has three main merits. Firstly, it brings back to light traditional practices that are almost forgotten and yet preserve a strong aura of fascination and creativity; secondly, it tells the captivating story of the tumultuous and guilt-ridden relationship between two characters who, given their roles as oppressor and rebel-oppressed, are supposed to be enemies. Finally, the story is set in a region sadly known for the Nazi massacre that took place in Sant’Anna di Stazzema, providing a tragic historical backdrop charged with drama which makes the unfolding of the events perfectly credible.
The contrast between the two main characters is what makes them greatly appealing. Anna, a healer who has joined the resistance, falls in love with a Nazi officer; on the other hand, Matthias, who is looking for a spy, falls in love with a partisan.
Building on a powerful original idea, The Tuscan Healer is a novel that gives life to a female character whom the reader will quickly become fond of, while weaving together contrasting emotions through a well-built and compelling narrative.
Magnani’s lucid prose facilitates the unfolding of the story, which is built around a deep-rooted yet largely ignored Italian tradition. The conflict between the Nazi occupiers and the resistance movement is recreated with equal mastery.