Cesir is thirty-five years old, she was born in Chocharia, a mountainous area lying to the south of Rome. A young girl she married a shopkeeper, moved to Rome, gave birth to a daughter and at first was very happy – until she did not discover the true face of her husband. But then he fell seriously ill and died (Chezira took care of him, as befits a loving wife), and she again felt almost happy. She had a “shop, an apartment and a daughter” – is this not enough for happiness? Cesir hardly knows how to read (although he considers money well) and does not care about politics. There is a war, but she really does not know who is at war with whom and why. The war is even profitable: trade is more frantic than in peacetime,
But soon Mussolini returns, Germans come, the streets are full of thugs in black shirts, and most importantly, bombings and hunger begin, and Cesir decides to wait this “bad time” in the village, with his parents. She herself is a strong woman and does not fear anything, but her daughter, eighteen-year-old Rosetta, timid, sincerely religious and very sensitive. Cesir is proud to believe that Rosetta is an incarnate perfection, “almost sacred,” although she soon has to come to the conclusion that perfection, based on ignorance and lack of life experience, falls apart like a house of cards in contact with the dark sides of life. In general, despite the fact that Cesir is a simple, almost illiterate woman, she is endowed with a realistic natural mind and observation, she is perceptive, sees people through and is inclined to a kind of philosophical generalizations. Unlike most peasants, for whom nature is only a habitat and a tool for production, it sees and feels the peculiar beauty of the Italian mountains, now covered with emerald grass, then burned to the whiteness of the hot sun.
Chezira intends to spend in the village no more than two weeks, but the journey drags on for long nine months, full of adversities, hardship, bitter experience. They do not manage to get to Cesir’s parents, because those, like the rest of the villagers, fled the coming war. The town of Fondi, which Chazira remembered so noisy and lively, was deserted, and the doors and windows were boarded up, as if a plague had traveled through the streets, an untapped crop was thrown in the surrounding fields. In the end, two women find refuge in one strange family, of course not for free (Cesir has a huge amount of peasant money – a hundred thousand lire). Here, for the first time, Cesir is convinced that war, violence and lawlessness reveal the most unsightly qualities of man, those who are ashamed of in peacetime. Concetta, her silly husband and two deserter’s sons, without a twinge of conscience, steal and sell property abandoned by neighbors, because. these things, in their opinion, “do not belong to anyone.” Concetta is ready to sell the local fascists an innocent girl Rosetta in exchange for the safety of their sons. At night, Cesir and his daughter flee to the mountains, where many refugees from the Fondi are already hiding, they remove a dilapidated shed from the peasant who clings to the rock and store food for the winter.
Accustomed to the prosperity of Cesir is struck by the incredible poverty in which the peasants of Saint-Eufemia live (even the chairs they use only on holidays, at the rest of the time sit on the ground, and the chairs hang suspended from the ceiling), and the respect they have for money and people, having money. Refugees from Fondi – merchants, artisans – richer, they have not run out of money and food, so they spend all their time eating, drinking and endless conversations about what will happen when the English come. These ordinary people do not hate either their own or the German fascists and do not understand why they are “ill” for their allies. The only thing they want is to return to normal life as soon as possible. The most surprising, everyone is sure that with the arrival of the Allies, life will be much better than before.
Only one person, Michele, understands what is really happening in the country. Michele is the son of a merchant from Fondi. He is an educated person and does not look like anyone who has ever met Cesir. Most of all it is striking that Michele, brought up under the fascist regime, hates fascism and claims that Mussolini and his henchmen are just a bunch of thugs. Michele is only twenty-five, there have been no significant events in his life, and therefore Chezira, by the simplicity of his soul, believes that his convictions arose, perhaps just from the spirit of contradiction. She sees that Michele is an idealist who does not know life, and his love for peasants and workers is, rather, a theoretical one. In truth, practical, cunning, mundane peasants do not particularly favor him, and his own father in person calls himself a fool, although at the same time he is secretly proud of him. But Chezira understands what a pure, honest, deeply decent person, she loves him as a son and is suffering heavily his death (he dies when the end of the war is already close, shielding the peasants from the shots of the brutalized Germans).
The life of Cesir and Rosetta in Sant’Eufemia is poor in events, but the war is gradually approaching, the first meeting with the Germans is taking place, which immediately convinces local residents that it is not good to wait for them (the refugee, who was robbed by the Italian fascists, seeks help to the Germans, and they eventually take the stolen goods to themselves, and he himself is sent to the front to dig trenches). Chezira sees with his own eyes that the Germans, the desert deserters, her neighbors – all behave like dishonest people, and she again and again comes to mind: in order to recognize a person, one must see it during the war, when everyone shows their inclinations and nothing Do not hold back.
Winter is passing, Sant-Eufemia is experiencing German raids and English bombing, famine and danger. In April, the refugees are happy to learn that the British have broken through the German defenses and are advancing. Cesir and Rosetta, along with the rest, descend to Fondi and find a pile of rubble on the site of the town, and from the balcony of the surviving home, American soldiers throw cigarettes and candies into the crowd of refugees. It turns out that Rome is still occupied by the Germans and there is nowhere to go. Here in Fondi, under the sound of American cannons, Cesir falls asleep and sees in a dream a hall full of fascists, faces of Mussolini, Hitler, sees how this room takes off into the air, and feels a storm of joy, understands that, probably without knowing it herself, always hated fascists and Nazis. It seems to her that now everything will be fine, but the war is not over yet, ahead of a new and difficult trial: in a remote village, Moroccan soldiers rape her daughter, rape him in church, right at the altar, and soon Chazira realizes that these few minutes have changed Rosetta beyond recognition. “Almost holy” becomes a libertine. Cesir returns to Rome, as she dreamed, but in her heart reigns not joy, but despair. On the way, robbers kill Rosetta’s friend, and Cesir, completely disgusted with himself, picks up his money, but this death tears off the mask of callousness from Rosetta’s face, she cries “about all people warped by war,” and hope revives in Cesir’s soul.