The Anarchist's Wife: A novella of the 1920s Sacco & Vanzetti case by Margo Laurie
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In 1920, anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were accused of a payroll robbery and double murder at a factory in Massachusetts. The case became one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice of the 20th century.
The Anarchist's Wife is a historical fiction novella which reimagines this American tragedy from the perspective of Rosa Sacco.
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On Sunday mornings, I became used to picking my way over the sleeping bodies of these friends of Fred’s in the parlor, bringing them coffee as they stirred and pampering their hangovers before we sent them back to Boston, Needham, and Plymouth on the train.
This is how I first remember Bart Vanzetti, how I like to remember him: half asleep on the floor, tucked up beside the gramophone. He had used his coat as a blanket and seemed quite comfortable. A gigantic walrus moustache obscured much of his face, but I could tell he was smiling by the way his eyes twinkled.
“It’s Bartolo, isn’t it? Do you want coffee?”
“Grazie. You’re an angel.”
Bart offered to help with breakfast. What a breakfast. In those calloused, ditch-digger’s hands, there was such talent for petit fours and pancakes. I still remember the way he cracked the egg and kept the yolk in the shell, and the white fell out neatly in the bowl, all in a second; the way he beat cake mixture up with mechanical fervor.
“Where did you learn this?” I asked.
“When I was a boy in Turin, I was apprenticed to a pastry chef.”
All the while he was cooking, he buttered me up too. He asked me about Lombardy and the nuns, and all those half-forgotten childhood things. He carefully examined Dante’s first picture which was pinned to the pantry door. He thanked me for the coffee and my hospitality. He loved the garden – it was all given over to fruit and vegetables – “a true socialist garden!” There was an easy pace to the way he talked, to the lovely things he said. I was blushing in spite of myself.
“You’re very kind,” I said. “But it’s nothing really. Ordinary things. All families are like this.”
“Nothing’s ordinary,” Bart said. “It all takes work and care, and love.”
He made far more cakes than were strictly necessary and left them neatly stacked on the dresser.
He was wonderful, Bart. I loved them all, the old guard. There was an innocence, truly, in those years before the War. They were pirates who were only pretending to be pirates and would definitely turn out to be of noble blood.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have a day job?
Yes, I currently have two part-time jobs. In my spare time, I’m in a book group, dance badly, and am learning Italian. I love history, which I studied at university, and greatly enjoyed doing the research for The Anarchist’s Wife.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Among my favourites was The Devil on the Road by Robert Westall. It’s a time-travel adventure published in the 1970s. A student goes back to the era of the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins. It’s written with verve and imagination, but also sensitivity to human nature and foibles. I still re-read it. Westall was a wonderful writer.
Can you tell us about your book?
The Anarchist’s Wife is a historical fiction novella about the Sacco-Vanzetti case in 1920s Massachusetts. It tells the story from the point of view of Nicola Sacco’s wife Rosa, imagining she had written a memoir.
What was your favourite chapter, or part, to write and why?
The most enjoyable scenes to write were the more whimsical passages where I allowed my imagination free, such as the conversations Rosa has with friends. The Sacco-Vanzetti case was quite a gruelling topic, though. I found the subject fascinating, but it could be emotional to write about.
How did you come up with the title The Anarchist’s Wife?
With difficulty! I was originally going to call the story The Suitcase but I was worried it would get lost in search results. I almost settled on Valentine for a Lost Cause. But then I found out there was a nineteenth-century sculptor called Edward Valentine whose statues celebrated the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy. So, I did a last-minute title change.
What are you writing next?
I’ve been working on a Christmas novella about a friendly ghost. It's been fun to write something light-hearted, but I would like to go back to historical fiction in the future.
4 out of 5 (very good)
Independent Reviewer for Archaeolibrarian - I Dig Good Books!
I found this novella extremely interesting. There was a lot of information to take in. It's been written from the wife's point of view and you can't seem to work out 100% for guilty or innocent. My first instinct is yep, of course, he's guilty, he's bound to be but then there are little things that could say he's innocent.
I've enjoyed reading this and recommend you read it too.
** same worded review will appear elsewhere **
* A copy of this book was provided to me with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book, and the comments here are my honest opinion. *
Margo Laurie studied history at university and is a member of the RNA's New Writers' Scheme. She lives in the North West.