Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Witch of Napoli


Summary: Italy 1899: Fiery-tempered, seductive medium Alessandra Poverelli levitates a table at a Spiritualist séance in Naples. A reporter photographs the miracle, and wealthy, skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi arrives in Naples to investigate. When she materializes the ghost of his dead mother, he risks his reputation and fortune to finance a tour of the Continent, challenging the scientific and academic elite of Europe to test Alessandra's mysterious powers. She will help him rewrite Science. His fee will help her escape her sadistic husband Pigotti and start a new life in Rome. Newspapers across Europe trumpet her Cinderella story and baffling successes, and the public demands to know - does the "Queen of Spirits" really have supernatural powers? Nigel Huxley is convinced she's simply another vulgar, Italian trickster. The icy, aristocratic detective for England's Society for the Investigation of Mediums launches a plot to trap and expose her. Meanwhile, the Vatican is quietly digging up her childhood secrets, desperate to discredit her supernatural powers; her abusive husband Pigotti is coming to kill her; and the tarot cards predict catastrophe. Inspired by the true-life story of controversial Italian medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918), The Witch of Napoli masterfully resurrects the bitter, 19th-century battle between Science and religion over the possibility of an afterlife.

My thoughts: To me, this book was not about spiritualism, the paranormal or the supernatural. This was about the grit and craftiness of two Neapolitans, Alessandra Poverelli and Tomaso Labella. Alessandra is an illiterate woman with psychic powers, and Tomaso is a young reporter who gets the opportunity to photograph her and later report her psychic events. 

The constant abuse of Alessandra's jealous husband, the undue interest of the so-called scientists and investigators who study the paranormal, the pull of her unfortunate love for the psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi, and her antipathy towards the British investigator Nigel Huxley all made for good reading. And, that is just one aspect. Tomaso, is the other. 

He is an adventurous, ambitious, courageous young man,  loyal to all his friends. Although he is half in love with Alessandra, he is level-headed enough to counsel her when she is reckless and helps her when she is vulnerable.

It is clear that Michael Schmicker, has done a lot of research for this book. Alessandra is based on the controversial, real-life medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918). This is not just a novel. It is an interesting discourse on the never-ending debate between rationalism and spiritualism. The characters and the descriptions in it show great skill in story-telling and a deep interest in humanity.

Note 1: I don't remember who sent me this book. Whoever it was, thank you so much! No matter who that was, this review is unbiased.

Note 2: I read this much earlier than Jezebel's Blues but forgot to write a review from my notes on it.