Palermo, Sicily. In the Piazza Marina a large crowd has gathered to witness the public hanging of a young brigand. Duke Signoretto di Fontanasalsa, leader of the Noble Fathers of the Inquisition, is in attendance, and with him is his deaf-mute daughter, Marianna, who is seven years old. The child watches as the rope is slipped round the prisoner's neck; there is a roll of drums and the hangman kicks away the box on which the boy is standing; the body drops and starts to rotate. The execution over, the Duke turns to his daughter: surely such a sight will force her to speak? But she remains silent and trembling, clinging to the folds of her father's robes. Set in the mid-eighteenth century, Dacia Maraini's unforgettable novel tells the story of three generations of the Ucria family, seen through the watchful eyes of the young Duchess Marianna. Married at thirteen to her own uncle, set apart from others by her disability, she searches for fulfilment in a society in which women facer either marriage and endless childbearing, or a life of renunciation within the walls of a convent.