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Michele Prisco: Gli eredi del vento (Heirs of the Wind)

The title comes from Proverbs 11.29 (He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind) and was also used for a famous film, based on a famous play. There is no connection between this novel and the play/film, except for the title.

Nicola Mazzù is a police officer, transferred to a rural location, called Leopardi, as the head of the police station there. He is both ambitious and competent. On the night of his arrival, a respectable old lady is robbed at night by a masked man. He is urged to take immediate action by the family of Dr. Costantino Damiano. Dr. Damiano is a widower, who has ceased to practise medicine in order to manage his estates. He has five unmarried daughters. Mazzù persuades the Damianos that it would be best to wait for daybreak, arguing that the thief will not have gone far. The next day, his suspicion falls on Luigino, a young man who works for the Damianos and has grown up with them. This is further confirmed when Luigino is found with a couple of the lady’s jewels, which he claims he bought in all innocence from a jeweller. It also seems that there is some relationship between Luigino and Francesca, the third oldest of the Damiano women. Mazzù eventually does capture the criminal, who is hiding out in the local woods. It seems that Luigino is innocent. However, Mazzù is clearly attracted to Francesca. When another crime is committed, suspicion again falls on Luigino and this suspicion further increases when Luigino disappears. He is later found hiding with his girlfriend, the local whore, in the woods, armed and threatening both the girlfriend and anyone coming near. He is eventually killed by Mazzù, in an act of bravery.

At this point, his relationship with the Damianos starts to change and he is clearly interested in becoming more involved with them and getting his hands on their wealth. He starts off by marrying the oldest daughter, Antonietta, to the surprise of everyone, including Antonietta herself, who at first rejects him. The marriage is not particularly happy and he has an affair with Francesca, though we learn little about it. Francesca feels very guilty about deceiving her sister but still carries on. While the others sisters accept their brother-in-law, Lisa, the youngest daughter, is clearly antagonistic towards him, though she does not discover the affair till much later. Antonietta gets pregnant but then has a miscarriage, when she falls down the stairs and dies. Nicola is clearly upset by the death of his wife. After an obligatory period of mourning, Francesca tells him that he should go and see her father and ask to marry Francesca. He does go and see Dr. Damiano but instead asks for the hand of Nerina, the second sister. Francesca is devastated but Nerina, at first surprised, agrees. They have a son, Michelino, adored by his aunts.

Having obtained more land through his two wives and with a heir, he feels able to resign his police post and focus on his land. However, the affair with Francesca continues. Tragedy strikes when Lisa is out with Michelino and is caught in the rain. Nerina goes to look for them, unaware that Lisa has found shelter in the hut where a local blind man lives. Unfortunately, Mazzù and Francesca are also in the hut (in another room) and Lisa discovers them. Nerina falls and is found unconscious by her husband. She seems to recover but soon dies. Lisa is, of course, even more opposed to her brother-in-law. Soon afterwards, Francesca announces to the family that she and Mazzù are to marry, without his being aware that she was going to make the announcement. When she tells of their affair, he feels that he has no choice. Theirs is a particularly unhappy marriage and Francesca eventually dies of what seems to be cancer. Mazzù, having become greedier for the Domiano land, tries to trick his remaining sisters-in-law into assigning their share to him, through Michelino. When that does not work, he marries Giovanna, the fourth sister, by whom he has a daughter. She, of course, dies.

It’s a tale of ambition and greed. Mazzù comes from a not particularly well-off background (but not a particularly poor one, either) and sees the Damianos’ extensive estates (vineyards, pine trees, which he chops down to sell for timber, against the wishes of his wife and sisters-in-law) as his way to an easy life. He is certainly not lazy but then nor is he hard-working, taking time off for his love affair with Francesca as well as to chat with friends and tenants. The Damianos, on the contrary, are represented as the old-fashioned, well-meaning bourgeoisie who treat the land and the people on it with respect. Mazzù is the new generation. He embraces new technology (buying a car, for example) and is more concerned with profit than preserving the land and the people on it. It is a somewhat old-fashioned tale but splendidly executed by Prisco

Publishing history

First published in Italian 1950 by Rizzoli
First English translation 1953 by Verschoyle