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Destiny toys with us with both hands. For my sins, I will pay, as all of us must. More, I think. But I still rejoice in the family she brought me.
Bad omens have followed me all my life. I was born in an unlucky month, under an unlucky moon. “August, the month of sorrow and grief.” It is a saying I know all too well, and it haunts me now as I pick my way through the soulless bodies on a deserted battlefield in the middle of the Brazilian wilderness.
A low fog flows through the field, covering the ground with a thin mist. It’s not enough to hide the carnage. These men, strewn about like broken china, were people I knew. They shared a campfire with my husband, hanging on his every word, just as I did once upon a time. So many men. I clasp my belly and say a silent prayer for my child as I wonder what will become of us. This battlefield that may have claimed my husband spreads out before me.
I look back at my captors, playing cards by the lantern light. Young men in tattered uniforms with unshaven faces. One of them slaps down a card and cheers as they continue to play. They want to leave, but I made a deal with the devil to be here. None of us can go until I am satisfied. These young soldiers underestimate me, just like so many others.
Slumping against a fallen tree, I rub my pregnant belly as I watch black vultures circle and swoop in a golden-red sky. My chest heaves with exertion as the stench sticks to the back of my throat, sweet and rancid. It threatens to overtake me, but I must continue. I have been here for hours, searching and wondering if these birds might be an omen. Is my husband dead?
I close my eyes at the childhood memory of a hunched old woman shaking her knobby fingers at me from the steps of the church as she proclaims, “This one, she will have a hard life. So very, very unlucky, this one,” before spitting off to the side, to ward off the devil.
But her proclamations made no difference. My mother already knew I was unlucky. I wasn’t born a boy. My life could have been infinitely different if I had been. Perhaps I would be one of the bodies scattered here among the mud and filth.
A branch cracks and I startle at the sight of a vulture walking in front of me. He dips his head down and pulls the flesh from a soldier, then turns to look at me as he gulps his meat. His black eyes shine in the dying light. We regard each other, this scavenger and I, and in him I recognize a creature not unlike myself. We do what we must to survive. The vulture flaps his massive wings and is gone.
My stomach churns and bile sets my throat on fire. Doubling over, I try to expel the acid, but nothing comes. I wish I had some water, anything to get the bitterness out of my mouth. Wiping my damp hair from my face, I look around me at the muddy field. My back seizes as I push myself up. Gasping against the pain, I catch an abandoned wagon before I fall face-first into another dead body. I close my eyes and try to control my breathing as I fight against the hopelessness that is setting in. This field is large and our losses enormous; there is no way that I can search through it in one evening.
My husband can’t be here. Men like him don’t die. He is too cunning. But in the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder what it means for me if he is. There are so many men, it’s not impossible to think that what they told me was true.
I turn back to the tree line as I realize, I could run. I could leave this place. I could sneak away from these incompetent idiotas. I could become something greater than my husband. They would whisper the name Anita Garibaldi in reverence.
Closing my eyes, I step forward, my boots sinking ever so slightly in the mud. Memories rush past me as I make my way across the field. Only time will tell if I am making the right decision.
Santa Catarina, Brazil
I was eight years old when I was sent to school in the small trading settlement of Tubarão. But conforming was never my strong suit. I tried my best to be like my two older sisters, my hair in braids, my dress freshly pressed, but I couldn’t sit still and pay attention. Our one-room schoolhouse was small and stale. I could feel the thick, hot air in my lungs making me struggle for breath.
This was once the justice of the peace’s office, but the villagers’ children needed a place to learn to read. He got a new building and we got the old one, yellowed with age and adorned with thick cracks that climbed the walls. Everyone was happy.
We sat at our desks, four rows across, every child dutifully listening to the basic lessons that would allow us to take over our parents’ roles in the village one day. The teacher droned on, reading from a book.
Sighing, I looked out the window to where a cherry guava tree grew. One of the branches, thick with bright pink berries, bounced up and down in the morning sun. I leaned out of my chair to get a better look at what was making such a ruckus. The little black nose of a wild coati poked through the lush green leaves. I watched as the little creature carefully walked out to the edge of the branch, seeking out the ripe guava.
“Anna de Jesus! Get back in your seat!” the teacher yelled, snapping my attention back to him.
He grabbed me by the arm to pull me in front of the class and made me hold out my hands. I tried to rip them away, but it only caused his grip to tighten. He slapped them firmly with his ruler. The sting resonated up my forearms into my elbows. “Do not speak back to your teacher. You are a girl. You should obey.”
Hot tears stung my eyes. I wasn’t going to reward him; I bit the inside of my lip to keep from crying out. Blinking back the tears, I could feel the other students’ eyes on me. It wasn’t until a giggle rippled up from the back of the room that my embarrassment led to anger. I grabbed the ruler from his hand and started to hit him with it. I could see nothing but my hand gripping the ruler as it made contact with my teacher’s arms, raised in defense. It was the last time I ever went to school.
“What are we going to do with you, Anna?” my mother asked, red-faced, nostrils flaring like a bull’s. We were in the safety of our small home with its thatched roof and mud-and-straw walls, away from the prying eyes of the village. My mother was always careful with what ammunition she gave the town gossips. I sat at the table, looking up at her, fear making my stomach clench.
“She will come to work with me.” Neither my mother nor I had heard my father come in. He was standing in the doorway, wiping a damp rag under his chin and ears. Mamãe straightened her back as she eyed my father.
“You are too soft on her. This,” she said, pointing to me, “this is all your fault.”
“This is our daughter. We could use the extra hands with the horses.” He looked down at me with his arms crossed, the hint of a smile on his face. I tried not to meet his smile.
My mother threw her arms up in the air as she walked in the opposite direction from my father. “I give up!”
I grinned broadly at her back as she stormed away. My father’s face grew stern as he regarded me. “Wipe that smile off your face. This will be hard work.” I nodded in agreement as he stalked off.
Working alongside my father with the horses and cattle was wonderful. Our area of southern Brazil, known as Santa Catarina, was a true Eden. No one loved the wild, rugged country like the gauchos, and Brazil couldn’t function without us.
We spent our days taming the wild land of Santa Catarina. Every year more people settled here from Europe and northern Brazil, requiring more land, more cows, and more resources in general. When a rancher lost one of his cattle, it was my father and the other gauchos who went out to find it.
Santa Catarina would not be the country that it was without the gaucho, and the gaucho would not be the gaucho without Santa Catarina. We worked under a wealthy landowner, who was referred to as a patron. A patron would not think of muddying their boots to drive a herd of cattle from one clearing to the next. A patron would not rise with the sun to feed the horses and cattle that made them wealthy. A patron would not leave the warmth of their bed in the middle of the night to help a cow give birth to a calf, not caring about the blood and mucus that came with. But a gaucho would. We didn’t need noble titles to know that we were the true owners of this land, with its lush green mountains that languidly stretched to the heavens. A wilderness that opened before us like the expanse of the ocean was better than any heaven promised to us by priests.
I was at my happiest when I rode out with these dirty, unkempt men who braved the wilds, through the downpour that attempted to cleanse all living things from the earth. No, I did not envy my sisters and former classmates. While they stayed in the airless classroom listening to a useless lecture, I was getting a real education.
Working as my father’s apprentice at first, I lined up his tools, making sure they were all in working order for him. I quickly became experienced enough to work alongside him, a full gaucho in my own right. At the end of the day, we cleaned the tools together, talking. My father told me stories about his people, the Azoreans who resided on the lush, exotic islands off the coast of Portugal.
“When I was a child, my parents couldn’t keep me on the ground.” He smiled as he wiped the mud off his prized facón, the knife that he had kept by his side since he first moved here. “There was this one bluff in particular that my friends and I liked to climb. It was so high that you could see for miles over the ocean.” He put the facón away and picked up another tool as I sat on the stool watching him. “When you stand on a bluff like that, you understand just how small you are.”
“What did you do after you reached the top?”
“We jumped.” His eyes got big as he tickled me. “But don’t you go getting any ideas now, little lady. I will not have you jumping off cliffs until you are at least…twenty.”
“Twenty? Why twenty?”
“Because by then you will be your husband’s problem.”
I wrinkled my nose at the thought, but then another question struck me. “Papai, why did you come here?”
He thought for a moment as he closed the toolboxes. After a while, he finally answered, “I understood there was more to the world than my little island.”
As ran the course of my life, the omens came, and with them came trouble.
One morning while my father and I were preparing for our day’s labor we heard my mother call out from the house. We dropped the tools that we had been packing and ran to her side. She was standing in the kitchen, staring at a little black bird with a bright red belly, sitting on the back of a chair, his little head rhythmically bobbing up and down.
“This is bad. Very bad.” My mother crossed herself as the color left her face. “There are spirits here.” She crossed herself again. “Something terrible is going to happen.”
I slowly walked up to the bird so that I didn’t startle him, setting one foot cautiously in front of the other. The bird turned his little head toward me. His eyes, as black as his feathers, shone brightly under his white-streaked brows. Gingerly I reached out toward him, stroking his little chest. The bird didn’t move or flinch. Our eyes met and for a moment I felt a kinship with this creature. Moving slowly, I scooped him up in my hands and carried him outside, where I released him back to the wild where he belonged.
It was a hot January day when my father volunteered to figure out where the leak was coming from in the community storeroom, where our small village’s produce and dried meats were stored during the rainy season. Any amount of moisture in that hut and we would all be starving for the rest of the season.
I volunteered to go with him, but he wouldn’t let me. “You’re too small. You might get hurt.”
“Just last month I helped catch a wild bull.”
“And you nearly got yourself trampled.” He gathered his rope and hammer. “You are eleven years old. You will have plenty of time to risk your life chasing cattle and climbing on top of rickety sheds.” He kissed the top of my head and left. I sulked, wishing I could go with him. They may have let me help rope the bull, but it was only because I was quicker with the lasso than the rest of the gauchos we rode out with.
Later that morning I was out at the stables, grooming the horses, when the news swept in like a rushing storm destroying everything in its path. The whole village went running to see the damage to the storeroom. Bile rose in my throat as I began pushing forward.
“He was walking on the roof,” one of my neighbors murmured. “They say he fell.”
“Of course he fell; that roof was so brittle that I don’t think it could even support the weight of a bird.” Their words died on their lips as they looked down, noticing me for the first time.
Weaving through the crowd that gathered, I made my way to the center of the room. It was only when I gasped at the sight—my father, white and waxen as he lay impaled by a beam through the abdomen—that I think I screamed. I couldn’t tell. Lurching forward, I tried to grasp his outstretched hand. That’s when one of the gauchos grabbed me. He threw me over his shoulder and carried me out the door.
The next day family, friends, and other kin gathered for the processional to bury my father. They hollered and cried, thumping their chests and pulling at their hair. My mother led the group, the loudest mourner of all. When the horse-drawn carriage came to a stop, she threw herself over the coffin, beating the lid as she exclaimed, “How could you leave me?” Two women pulled her away, her wails a low fog rising above the crowd of mourners.
I stood in the back, watching the spectacle that played out before me. People crowded around me as the whole village pushed past me to follow the casket. Clinging to a tree, I did my best not to get swept away by the current of faces that moved toward the graveyard. Looking around, I could no longer see my mother or my sisters. Suddenly, I felt alone and scared in this sea of people.
Their noise was a cacophony that made me feel disoriented. Their sweat clung to my nostrils as I was jostled along the pathway. I had to leave. I was feeling myself go mad. Fighting through the procession, I made it to the river, my pulsing lungs on fire, and collapsed by a tree, gasping for breath. This world suddenly felt cold and dark without my father. He was the only one who understood me.
That was when I heard the footsteps behind me. I turned my head sharply, expecting it to be a wild animal, only to see Pedro, the village drunk. He smiled; half of his teeth were missing, and I could see his tongue in the gaps.
“Such a little thing. So sad that you are all alone now.”
“Go away, Pedro,” I said, looking back at the river but keeping watch on him from the corner of my eye.
He swaggered over to me and took one of my braids in his hand. “Such pretty long hair you have.” He let the braid slip through his dirty fingers. “Such a shame that you don’t have a father to protect you anymore.”
“Leave me alone, Pedro.” I went to move away but he grabbed me by the arm, throwing me against a tree.
“You do not speak to men that way.” He was so close I could smell his cologne of alcohol and urine. “I should teach you a lesson.” He pressed me up against the tree as he fumbled with his pants.
I began to struggle. He pinned me harder, licking my cheek. “Be a good girl.” His words were thick and wet.
Instinct kicked in and I stopped struggling. I went limp, slipping through his clutches, and ran faster than I had ever run in my life back to our house.
Most of the guests were gone by that point, but my mother was just outside our front door, having said goodbye to someone. I ran to her and wrapped my arms around her, feeling safe in her strong embrace.
“Anna, what has gotten into you?”
I buried my head in her neck, unable to bring myself to speak. When I finally did, I told her everything. Her face went from pale white to crimson. “That louse. You are lucky you were able to get away.” She held my head in her hands in order to look into my eyes. “You have to be careful. We no longer have your father here to protect us.”
That night I lay in my bed with my older sister Maria snoring beside me. It felt like there was a chasm between us. Even though we were only three years apart, she acted as if she were one of the adults. We had never been close, but the ways we expressed our shared grief for our father felt like night and day. Where I felt stripped bare, she turned inward. Maria wanted to be left alone to the point that she would sneer whenever I came around. Now, as I lay beside her, I couldn’t sleep, the events of the day racing through my mind. I stared at our thatched ceiling. Maria snorted and rolled over. I couldn’t help but think, Why do we need a man to protect us? I worked alongside the men, doing the same work that they did. I could ride a horse better than most of the men of our village. I was given the most stubborn horses to break. My father was the one who taught me. The day that he had discovered that I had a natural affinity for horses was one of the best days of my childhood. And perhaps the most stressful for him.
I could taste the hay and horse sweat that the hot November air had carried through our encampment. The horse shook her black mane every few minutes. Her eyes were wild, darting from person to person, her breath loud and heavy with her anxiety. Whenever one of the men tried to approach her, she would rear up, kicking out in an attempt to defend herself against their whips. I stood next to my father, who sighed heavily. “That is not how you break a horse.” My father had his methods, and this wasn’t one of them.
When the men were preoccupied with their siesta, and taking a break from the horse, I approached the pen slowly, holding out my shirt like a basket in order to carry all the figs that I had collected. She stood there regarding me; with every step I took she stomped her hoof and let out an angry whine. I stood by the fence and watched her as I put one of the soft fruits to my mouth.
The horse stomped in protest again. So I turned my back to her and continued to eat. It took only a few moments for her to come to me. She nudged my shoulder with her muzzle. When I didn’t respond, she nudged me harder, pushing me forward. I turned to look at her. We stared at each other until she quickly dipped her head. I smiled, holding one of the figs out in the palm of my hand. It was gone in an instant. Then another. Before I gave her a third she had to let me pet her. She shied away at first but by her seventh and last fig, her head was in my hands, letting me rub her as she sniffed for more food. At the sound of a cracking twig, she ran away, making laps around the pen. I turned to find all of the men, including my father, watching me. An old man leaned in toward my father, whispering something. My father grimly nodded and strode over to me. “It’s time for you to get in there with her.”
I had watched him break a horse a hundred times, horrified at the prospect of doing it myself. He nodded toward the horse as she nervously trotted around the pen.
“She’s going to try to break you more than you are going to try to break her,” my father explained. “Do not let her know she has scared you.” The horse’s ears were back as her large nostrils flared, releasing angry huffs. My father paused, staring down at the horse. “And for the love of God, don’t turn your back to her.”
Hesitantly I climbed over the faded wooden fence and stood there watching her. She shook her head, letting out angry huffs and snorts. Then she charged me. I stood my ground as she came barreling toward me, just like I had seen the men do. And at the last minute, she broke off, running the perimeter of the fence. I breathed a sigh of relief as I readied myself for her next attack. This dance between gaucho and horse was one I had seen many times. We continued like this for most of the afternoon, until she stopped, panting and huffing. She stomped her hoof into the dirt like an angry child. I made shushing noises as I approached her. Slowly I reached out a hand and stroked her sides. I was patient as I worked the rope around her. She trusted me and I wasn’t going to violate that trust. I was my father’s daughter.
Now as I lay beside Maria, I wondered if I would ever be trusted to work like that again. I could rope a calf in ten seconds, the fastest in the village. Was I not as good as the gauchos because I was a woman? I certainly did not feel that way. Why should I be treated any differently now that I no longer had a father to watch over me? I punched my pillow and rolled over. I needed to do something. That’s when I decided that the next day, I would be the one to teach Pedro a lesson.
I spied the louse the next morning from a distance as he was doing his job, if you could call it that. He was a lazy farmhand who worked only if his boss was watching. He sat in the shade of a decrepit old pine tree, too focused on his drink to care about the oxen that were tied to the trunk with a thick rope. Years of termite damage made the pine slouch to the side like an old man in need of a cane. This was going to be too easy.
I kicked my horse in the hindquarters and she took off at a run straight for the oxen, who at this point noticed us. Their beady eyes grew large as they stopped chewing. The oxen pulled, trying to run away, bringing the tree with them, roots and all. Pedro, seeing this and seeing me, came right into my path with his arms raised in an attempt to stop me. He was just where I wanted him. I reached back and struck him with my whip, as hard as I could across his face. He cried out as if I had chopped off a limb. Blood seeped through his fingers and down his arm.
“Father or no father, you do not get to touch me.” I turned my horse and galloped away.
A few hours later the constable showed up at my door. He brought my mother and me to the justice of the peace, Senhor Dominguez, to discuss my incident with Pedro. Senhor Dominguez was known as a fair man, but I didn’t know if I could trust him. He was short and bald with a little black mustache that made him look official. My mother and I sat stiff-backed in our chairs on the other side of the desk. The air was thick and hot even though his windows were open.
“I understand that you attacked Pedro this afternoon and damaged a very old tree.” He looked down his nose at me. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”
I stared at the dark spot on the wall above his head. He looked over at my mother, who shrugged. “I wasn’t there but I am sure that totó got what he deserved.”
He shook his head. “Luckily for you Pedro’s reputation precedes him. I suppose you have to protect yourself somehow.” He shuffled the papers on his desk. “Your father was a good man. I always enjoyed our talks. Just do me a favor and next time you try to teach someone a lesson, please don’t make such a mess. We’re still cleaning up after the oxen.”
When we arrived home, my mother made the decision: We were moving eighteen miles away, to Laguna at the coast, to be closer to my godfather. We would be safer there.
I hated Laguna. The city was a crowded jungle of houses that ran along the horseshoe bay. I could feel the heat that radiated off the homes painted in bright hues of blue, green, and yellow. The only things the houses had in common were the clay roofs that were baked into a deep red from the Brazilian sun. The people always yelled, one voice over the other trying to make itself heard.
Though every village had its gossips, Laguna’s were malicious. I was a favorite subject for them. How can a fourteen-year-old girl with no father walk the streets with such pride? Women whispered as I walked past them, their hands discreetly over their mouths, pretending they didn’t want me to hear.
- "The Woman in Red is an epic tale of one woman's fight to take control of her circumstances to create the life of her dreams. Anita Garibaldi is a modern woman in the 19th century who led with her heart despite circumstances so dire, most mortals would give up. Her passionate affair with Giuseppe Garibaldi freed her from a provincial life into one of passion, danger and purpose. Ms. Giovinazzo has crafted a spectacular story in this stunning debut."—Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of Tony's Wife
- "Anita Garibaldi, one of the greatest unsung heroines in history, comes to passionate life in Diana Giovinazzo's searing debut novel, The Woman in Red. Brazilian revolutionary, gaucho, and partner-in-arms to her husband, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Anita is a feminist icon to die for."—Mary Sharratt, author of Ecstasy and Illuminations
- "Diana Giovinazzo establishes herself as a worthy new voice in historical fiction with this irresistible tale of Anita Garibaldi: firebrand, lover, soldier, mother, revolutionary. Garibaldi isn't just fierce, she's ferocious. Her unstoppable energy propels this novel forward through tragedy and triumph, soaring all the way."—Greer Macallister, bestselling author of The Magician's Lie and Woman 99
- "Anita Garibaldi is exactly the kind of courageous woman whose astonishing story of defiance and dedication -- to freedom and to her passions -- I've been craving. Told in her bold and unflinching voice, The Woman in Red by Diana Giovinazzo brings this brazen, complex woman -- and the man she fought beside -- vividly to life."—Erin Lindsay McCabe, USA Today bestselling author of I Shall Be Near To You
- "Captivating . . . Giovinazzo adds realistic details to the fast-paced narrative. The novel's focus on a strong woman who defied the odds to follow her heart will appeal to fans of historical fiction."—Publishers Weekly
- "A great swashbuckler . . . Epic in scope, adventurous in nature, dreamily romantic, and occasionally a nail biter, this is the story of a passionate love affair, a feminist before feminism's time, history as it happened in three countries, triumph, and tragedy."—New York Journal of Books
- "Giovinazzo gives the reader a fascinating look at 19th-century South America and its culture, where machismo prohibited women from any meaningful role or status in society. It's Anita Garibaldi's fight against those prohibitions that make her such an inspirational character . . . The Woman in Red is a finely crafted, exciting page-turner and is highly recommended for readers interested in learning about strong and empowered women."—Historical Novel Society
- "Giovinazzo deftly brings Anita and her story to life in this sweeping saga . . . Entertaining and educational, as well as a wonderful way for readers to meet a lesser-known historical figure whose own life story could very well help influence their own by encouraging others to dig deep within to find courage and bravery."—Ovunque Siamo
- "Drenched in sensual detail and sparkling with sensual dialogue. . . A mesmerizing, marvelous look into the life of an unsung heroine, the story will appeal to all who refuse to resign themselves to fate."—Ambassador Magazine
- On Sale
- Aug 4, 2020
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Grand Central Publishing