Historian Joan Severance has returned to the Sicily of her childhood, ostensibly to do research in the archives of the remote fortress town of Valparuta. In truth, her academic career lies in ruin behind her after being relieved of her teaching duties at Brown University for assaulting a student. Unable to approach her own long-buried history of loss and displacement, Joan takes refuge in the cool library rooms of the old town. But Valparuta, Joan discovers, is haunted too. Unseen hands vandalize its homes and streets; the archivist, Cosimo Chiesa, suffers invisible blows. As Joan's disturbed, hyper-intuitive mind falls increasingly under Valparuta's spell, the embattled Chiesa begins a subtle campaign of seduction and tutelage whose purpose-at once shocking and inevitable-will force Joan to confront her unacknowledged past.
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