Behind Closed Doors
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MARIA MESSINA (1887–1944) was born in Palermo, Sicily. She taught herself to read and write, eventually finding a mentor in the famed Italian realist Giovanni Verga, who encouraged her to begin writing seriously. Her works include novels, short stories, and children's tales. In 1910, she received the Medal of Gold for her first book of stories, Pettini-fini (Fine Combs).

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Behind Closed Doors

Her Father's House and Other Stories of Sicily
Maria Messina

Translated by Elise Magistro. Preface by Fred Gardaphe. Introduction by Elise Magistro. Afterword by Elise Magistro.

With an ear for dialogue comparable to that of Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, and Ernest Hemingway, Sicilian writer Maria Messina presents a captivating yet often brutal image of women’s lives in early 20th century Italy.

The first collection of Messina’s work to be translated into English, Behind Closed Doors captures habits and gestures, words spoken and those left unsaid, to portray the struggles of individuals who found themselves caught between traditions they respected and the deep need to ease social restrictions. Messina’s stories reveal a world in which women are shuttered in their homes, becoming virtual servants to their families, while men emigrate to the United States in search of fortune. It is a world of unstated privilege in which habits and implied commands perpetuate women’s servitude.

“[T]hese ten persuasive tales offer stark, finely drawn portraits of poor and middle-class Sicilian women in the early years of the twentieth century.”

The New York Review of Books

“A window into another time and another culture. . . . We understand the emotions of [the] characters, simultaneously victims and heroines. . . . Messina’s words will leave their mark. Their power makes them impossible to forget.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Virtually the only great Italian fiction about the massive Sicilian immigration to America written while it was happening . . . honed, polished, devastatingly direct—verismo at its unsentimental best.”


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