Dacia Maraini is celebrated in italy, where her books are bestsellers and win important prizes, but she hasn't yet caught on in the United States, where translated fiction gets slighted and there's room for only two or three writers from each foreign country. I hope the Silent Duchess changes that. It's an extraordinary book -- a historical novel set in 18th century Sicily, whose heroine, Marianna Ucria, the deaf and dumb aristocrat of the title, manages, in small and subtle ways, to become an independent spirit despite a forced marriage to her uncle at age 13. The writing is piquant and evocative-- Sicily has never seemed so intense and alive--sights, smells, food). This is a book with everything you'd find in a historical potboiler-- sex, love, violence, family, incest, spectacle, tragedy. But it's a serious word of art, moving, sensuous, thought-provoking. One of the best novels I've read all year!