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Authors: Joanna Scott

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BOOK: Tourmaline
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Copyright © 2002 by Joanna Scott

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Originally published in hardcover by Little, Brown and Company, September 2002

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our Web site at

The Little, Brown and Company Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

First eBook Edition: September 2003

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

ISBN: 978-0-316-02886-8


October 1, 1999

The Casparia

I Fantasmi

The Undaunted

The Life of a Rock

The Inconstant

March 1, 2001

Extraordinary acclaim for Joanna Scott’s

“Graceful and engrossing….
comforts, haunts, and compels attention…. Powered by vivid prose and a suspenseful plot involving the disappearance of a young woman, Scott’s novel recounts the experiences of an American family that moves to the Italian island of Elba in the 1950s…. Scott portrays Elba with such vividness that it becomes one of her most compelling characters.”

— Thomas Haley,
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Joanna Scott’s words are pearls strung into necklaces of sentences. She’s a writer with a gift, a valuable gift.”

— Susan Balée,
Philadelphia Inquirer

“Scott unravels her story with masterful precision, yet within the elaborately constructed plot is writing rich with emotion…. Scott’s touch is magical and sure when revealing the adult world through a child’s eyes…. Like Ian McEwan, Scott knows the power of willing a tale into existence, reframing fiction to escape the limits of truth….
is a work of witchcraft, of magic, of detailed, ordinary observation, of ventriloquism, of simple psychology. Like all Scott’s work, it holds the reader spellbound.”

— Helen Eisenbach,

once again shows Joanna Scott to be a writer who takes different directions from book to book, a quest, like the one for tourmaline, that involves looking for something when you don’t know what you’re looking for, and separates the genuine artist from the fake.”

—Jeffrey Eugenides,
New York Times Book Review

“Scott’s narrative slides deftly, slyly, from one point of view to another…. Joanna Scott is so consistently inventive and elegant a writer — and the central character of
, Elba, the island of dreams, is evoked with such convincing lushness.”

— Kathryn Harrison,

“Joanna Scott is a writer drawn to the peculiar poetry of history…. Scott trolls the depths of historical record for the enigmatic characters, turns of plot, and rich, visual details that make her work come alive. But it is not quite accurate to call Scott a writer of historical fiction. Scott is, in truth, more historiographer than historian, because her glorious literary obsession is not really with the minutiae of history as it is with the particular ways history is made…. Scott’s gorgeous prose and poetic sensibility capture the taste of blue tourmaline, the sensation of loneliness, the sound of the sea, and the beauty of the landscapes that the Murdochs encounter on Elba…. Scott is a thoughtful storyteller, armed with a technical expertise that, in places, rivals her many 19th-century models. Like Claire, who is haunted by Hawthorne’s owls and Tolstoy’s Anna and who tours the grand Tuscan landscapes with Keats and Alexandre Dumas by her side, Scott has an intuitive understanding of the complicated dance between literature and life.”

— Laura Ciolkowski,
Chicago Tribune

“Napoleonic history, geology, and a father’s folly are woven together in this captivating novel…. This is an absorbing picture of a family rediscovering themselves in a foreign land.”

Publishers Weekly

“An engrossing tale of familial stress and thwarted passions on a Mediterranean island….
maintains the elegance and intensity readers of
The Manikin
Make Believe
might expect…. Scott’s Elba, with its eccentrics, brooks limitless drama and depth.”

— Max Winter,
San Francisco Chronicle

“A novel that Scott makes as prismatically complex as the gem that provides her title.”

— Michael Mewshaw,
Washington Post Book World

“Scott’s details are placed in their settings like gems in fine jewelry — each has several facets: the beautiful, the dangerous, the ominous, and the familiar. This is the story of a family that flees financial ruin by leaving the United States for the island of Napoleon’s exile: Elba. The father, Murray, is charming and hopeless; the mother, Claire, is constant but passionately in love with her husband; the four brothers are as wild and independent as the children in Virginia Woolf’s
The Waves

— Susan Salter Reynolds,
Los Angeles Times

“Beauty and unease, two hallmark qualities of the gothic, are on masterful display in
…. There are many scenes here that are simply stunning, events and moments that shimmer and vibrate long after reading.
, like the stone itself, reflects the outward surface of things and some luminous quality buried deep inside their forms.”

— Richard Wallace,
Seattle Times

“In this Gravesian, introspective novel, the light of hindsight illuminates, as usual, not quite everything.”

The New Yorker

“Joanna Scott is a worker of wonders, and
is a wondrous novel, one which should be read and then read again.”

— Adrienne Miller,

“Anyone who likes a book with many facets will find
a real gem.”

— Kate Finley,
Wall Street Journal

“In prose that has the luminosity of a light reflected off precious gems, Scott weaves a complex family history…. Scott digs deeply into the secret hearts of her characters and comes up with a novel that is richer than diamonds.”

— Mary A. McCay,
New Orleans Times-Picayune

Also by Joanna Scott

Make Believe

The Manikin Various

Antidotes Arrogance

The Closest Possible Union

Fading, My Parmacheene Belle

For Maureen Howard and Mark Probst

October 1, 1999

ater laps against the quay of Portoferraio. Hun-gry dogs blink in the sunlight. A grocer stacks oranges. A carabiniere checks the time on his wristwatch. A girl chases a cat into a courtyard. Men argue in the shade of an archway. A woman rubs a rag over a shop window. Heels click on stone. Bottles rattle in the back of a flatbed truck. A boy writes graffiti on the wall above the steps leading to the Liceo Raffaello. German tourists hesitate before filing into a bar. An old woman, puzzled to find herself still alive at the end of the century, sits on a bench in Piazza Repubblica, her eyes closed, her lips moving in a silent prayer to San Niccolò.

I have seen the faded frescoes of San Niccolò in the church in San Piero. I drove to this little enclave yesterday in search of a grotto that is supposed to be full of tourmaline. After wandering through the hills without finding the grotto, I returned to San Piero to explore the village and the deserted ruins of the Appiano fortress. The emptiness felt so complete that the shadow of a man on the granite wall startled me — my own shadow, squat in the light of late morning.

Inside the church, Niccolò has watched the world with knowing eyes for six hundred years. Bloodied Niccolò, who knows everything about everyone and will never be surprised.

When the earth’s ancient fire cooled and shrank toward the core, it left behind a hard, uneven shelf of land along the west coast of the peninsula of Italy that was extraordinarily rich with minerals — with hematite, magnetite, pyrite, quartz, agate, and tourmaline running in pure veins through the deep folds of metamorphic rock. Millions of years later, the fire inside the earth flared, tremors vibrated in the glaciers, and the Tuscan Archipelago broke away from the continent. Vents opened in mountain peaks. Basaltic lava flowed over the land. Rain cooled the lava into rock, storm winds wore the rock smooth, rivers cut channels, dust turned to soil, soil softened to fertile mud along the deltas. New forests grew, diverse species of plants and animals evolved. A unique species of poisonous snake made its home on Montecristo. Each island had its own kind of beetle. At one time, small brown bears lived in the caves of Elba, a prehistoric species of rhinoceros roamed the fields, and lynx hunted the newborn foals of wild horses.

Like all bodies of land, the island of Elba would continue to change. Everything on Elba would change, except the minerals. Deep inside the ground the minerals of Elba would remain what they were, pure, intact, untouched by measurable time.

At Pomonte, follow the road to the right of the church beyond the last of the village houses. Continue up the rise. At the fork, cross the little cement bridge and climb the granite steps to the mule track. Follow the track through the vineyards, keeping the stream to your left. Continue past the last vines and into the woods. Cross through a chestnut grove, go forward about a hundred meters, wade through the stream, cross a valley, and continue into another wood of white poplar and oak.

Eventually you will come to an old sheepfold and shepherd’s cottage at the top of Grottaccia hill. If you look carefully at the dome of the cottage, you will see that no mortar was used. The skillful builders constructed the dome simply by putting one stone on top of another.

Four thousand years ago, a woman stood in the grotto of San Giuseppe and poured oil from a vase into a bowl. She crumbled dried rosemary into the oil and pounded it to make a paste. She rubbed the paste on the forehead of her sleeping child to take away his fever.

Three thousand years ago, two Greeks, who happened to be brothers, tended a smelting fire. When the burning wood suddenly popped and sparked, the brothers lurched back with a gasp. The fire burned on. The ore melted. The brothers laughed at their cowardice. They decided to name the island Aethalia after the sparking fires. They knew these fires would burn for centuries.

Twenty-five hundred years ago, an Etruscan patriarch stood on the steps of the acropolis on Volterraio and admired the island’s beauty. He decided then and there to deliver an edict moving the smelting furnaces to the mainland territory of Populonia.

Two thousand years ago, a Roman mapmaker wandered the island, recording the contours of land, the presence of rivers and streams, the size of villages. The most prosperous villages belonged to the Ilvates — settlers who had come from Liguria — so the mapmaker decided to name the island Ilva.

The name of Elba, replacing Ilva, first appears in Gregory the Great’s
written in the second half of the sixth century A.D.

Hair tangled by the salty seabreeze. Sparkle of quartz dust. Pigskin ball sailing through the air. Clamor of American soldiers in pursuit. Confusion, laughter, protest, happiness, youth.

Still the men in the shade of the archway are arguing, still the old woman sitting on the bench in Piazza Repubblica in Portoferraio is mouthing a silent prayer. The boy who was writing on the wall has left. French tourists stand outside a bar, trying to decide whether or not to go in.

Follow the path from Marciana toward the San Cerbone monastery. At the little lay-by area beyond the woods, take the steep narrow track through the shade of tree-heath. Climb over the broad granite slabs and across the screes to the ridge, where the paths for Poggio and Sant’Ilario meet. Keep following the track up the eastern slope of Monte Capanne, through the scrub of lavender and genista, proceed in a steep climb for about half an hour to the summit. If the day is clear, you will be able to see the coast of Tuscany in one direction, the mountains of Corsica in the other.

Five hundred years ago, a mother hid with her three children in the family’s dank lightless cantina in Marina di Campo. The father had locked the door from the outside and left to fight with his neighbors against Khayr ad-Dīn, the pirate known as Barbarossa. The mother sang to her children, and then the children took turns telling stories. They had only a loaf of bread between them and nothing to drink but wine. When the father unlocked the door three days later, his family tumbled out, dissolute, overcome with hilarity.

Four hundred and fifty years ago, twelve young men and women were dragged from their homes in the township of Fabricia onto a boat bound for Tunisia, where they would serve as slaves for the rest of their lives.

BOOK: Tourmaline
11.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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