Based upon real events, award-winning author Laisha Rosnau's newest novel Little Fortress (Wolsak & Wynn) follows the journey of the Caetanis, an aristocratic Italian family who fled the rise of fascism in their home country to settle in Vernon, British Columbia.
The novel focuses on three women - Ofelia Caetani, her daughter Sveva, and their personal secretary, Miss Juul - but it is the unassuming Miss Juul who guides us through the story. Spanning over twenty-five years of her employment with the family, Little Fortress examines the complexities of loyalty during a time of great social and political upheaval.
A moving and beautifully-paced saga, Trickster Drift author Eden Robinson called Little Fortress "a haunting, sweeping story, both mournful and stitched with a lilt of hope.”
We're extremely pleased today to feature an excerpt from the book below.
Excerpt from Little Fortress:
In the last days before we reached America, the air was biting with cold. Some nights, after the ladies were asleep, I would put on a coat, hat, scarf and gloves over my evening attire and go out on the deck. The ship’s staff told me not to, warned the cold was too much, it was dangerous. I ignored them, minced along the deck. A sharp chill wrapped around the ship, twisted around my ankles, legs, waist. The cold was pocketed in clouds of air I would walk into, a casing covering me until I blundered through to the other side. Eventually, we were so high in the Atlantic that I would watch icebergs calf and moan, float by as if apparitions. The slow movement of the liner against the steady drift of the bergs made it seem everything – water, land, sky, stars – was moving around and against each other, like parts in a clock. I would never last long, the cold slicing into me as mountains of ice lumbered by in dark water.
We’d left England shrouded in fog that obscured the coastline, and Italy’s coast burned gold in my mind, blurred with sunlight. On the morning we approached the Atlantic coast of Canada, the light was so clear in the cold air that everything seemed sharply focused – each shadow etched on the rocky coast, every tree against every other tree. That was all I could see – rock and tree, light and shadow stark against each other. The ship steered out of the Atlantic into the Saint Lawrence, the rock gave way and then, aside from an occasional lighthouse and small cropping of tiny wooden houses perched on uncertain shores, there were only trees.
We didn’t know for how long we’d be exiled in this country. I travelled as staff of the family – Duke Leone Caetani di Sermoneta, Ofelia and their four-year-old daughter, Sveva. It was she, not her mother, who watched with me as we passed into our new country. “Where are the people, Miss Jüül?” she asked.
“I’m sure they’re in the cities, Sveva. We’ll meet them soon.”
“Will we like them will they like us what will it all be like?” She spoke in one continual stream, a hybrid between Italian, French and English. I’d become accustomed to the mixed singsong of her speech.
“I’m sure it will all be wonderful,” I told her, though, of course, I was not sure at all.
Did I long for my own home? I thought often of my own family, people I had once known so well that I could recognize the cadence of footsteps, a cleared throat. Now they’d become more of a concept to me, like figures in a photograph, locked in time, fading. I had left them behind so long ago. Since then, I’d become separated from other people who felt more real to me, my desire for them keening just below the surface of my skin. One person in particular, though I would not name him. I had little idea of what my role would be in this new world, but I had grown accustomed to uncertainty, the spaces between, the ways I could slip into them.
Laisha Rosnau is the author of the best-selling novel, The Sudden Weight of Snow (McClelland & Stewart), and four critically acclaimed, award-winning collections of poetry. Her work has been nominated for several awards, including the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Pat Lowther Award, three times for the CBC Poetry Prize, and has won the Blue Heron Poetry Prize and the Acorn-Plantos Poetry Award. Rosnau's work has been published across Canada, in the US, UK and Australia. She teaches in UBC Okanagan's Creative Writing Program. Rosnau lives in Coldstream, BC, where she and her family are resident caretakers of Bishop Wild Bird Sanctuary. Visit her website at laisharosnau.com.