In “Dust and ash” (L’Erudita) Samantha Colombo tells the story of Gloria Galt, on the run from a painful past and from a criminal who holds her hostage
The black fog, the air dense with smog and the miasma exhaled by the Thames hide the other face of London, which in 1896 was a metropolis split between modernity and extreme poverty, between those who live in splendor and those who survive in the middle of the mud. Gloria Galt dreams of that metropolis on the other side of the world, in America; after all England is his homeland, which he has not seen for years, and which he is now about to step on again: the beginning of a backward journey among the ghosts of his young life.
The historical novel by Samantha Colombo (Busto Arsizio, Varese, 1980) revolves around the events of Gloria,
Dust and ash (L’Erudita, pages 330, euro 29), who comes to life with her two “heroines”: a young woman, courageous and tenacious, capable of biting life, even when the cruelest fate seems to be raging on her (in an age when women were not given space for an exuberant personality). And London, a charming and superb lady, looking towards the future; city bleeding from the plagues of poverty and the underworld.
“It had been nine years since she had run away from a broken family, leaving everything behind. Also the only person who had taken care of her », and now Gloria is there, poised between a painful past and a future that would not ask her questions. But the first hours on London soil turn into a nightmare: his carriage is attacked by thugs who kill the coachman and make his companion O’Connor disappear into thin air. Then the desperate escape and a stroke of luck: in the middle of the road he meets a noblewoman, Lady Violet, who will save her by taking her to her home. It is the beginning of a disturbing adventure, built on one escape after another.
Whoever rescued her is the wife of the most powerful man in town, Sir Ravensdale who warns Gloria that the police are looking for her as the only suspect in the murder in the carriage. So, to help her, he hides her in a small room in the ugliest and most dangerous quarter of the city, in the East End, where “the most shady vices and the most heinous crimes nestled among the filthy ravines.” For Gloria begins a segregation in the neighborhood; He soon discovers that Sir Ravensdale is not really a benefactor, but a kind of boss of the city that he manages with a hard fist and his gang of criminals. And who is willing to do anything to kill his worst enemy, Basil Hawkesworth, a doctor who has always sided with the needy in the city.
That name, Gloria hadn’t heard of since the last time she fled to America: a friend she had grown up with, a silent love, never declared. Basil is a kind of modern hero, doctor and philanthropist, bright eyes and burning soul, just like Gloria, “A man with a noble purpose, an instrument of a necessary revolution in a society without restraints where modernity was grinding consciences and burying them”. Basil lives for the cause of the poor, so that they can have a second chance in life, besides being born in the wrong place. So the story takes a leap into the past – to mend the traumatic event that led the protagonist to escape from Surrey, linked to her mother who suffered from an unrecognized form of depression and her father, who would have liked to lock her up in an asylum too – and takes a completely unexpected turn, between chases, hiding places, attacks and shootings. Gloria runs through the sewage of London, skirt up and pistol tight to her chest, never yielding to the evidence that life spits on her.
The author sews a gripping plot that leaves the reader in suspense until the end, and which is closely linked to the city in which it is set, in the right balance between the detail of the description and the dizzying narrative. AND then there is Gloria who seems to be the embodiment of the metropolis: strong and courageous, determined to the point of madness, to the point of learning that “pushing oneself beyond one’s limits and unhinging one’s convictions, in spite of everything, was what her nature best reflected”. At the bottom of his gaze there is the light of a great future. And, as Basil taught her, a world that can be changed in that city that “welcomed such dissimilar universes into its womb, united in the name of a hope stronger than poverty and even death”.
November 23, 2021 (change November 23, 2021 | 13:16)