Death in the Mountains

Death in the Mountains

This is the true story of the murder of Artemio Bruni, a peasant farmer in the mountains of Casentino, north-eastern Tuscany, in the winter of 1907. Artemio was my husband's great-grandfather.

Winner of the Victorian Premiers Award for Writing About Italians

For reasons not understood by my husband’s family, Grandpa Artemio’s death was never investigated. It was not reported to the police, nor did Bruna Bruni, Artemio’s wife, ever demand justice. How could that be possible, I asked my mother-in-law – was it because of the mafia? ‘No, no, you don’t understand,’ she answered. ‘Things were different in the mountains one hundred years ago. Grandpa and Grandma were poor farmers, no one could have cared less about them. Grandpa was a nobody and life was cheap in Tuscany then.

When Australian author and journalist Lisa Clifford moved to Florence to be with her Italian husband, an unsolved murder in his family became part of her life. The more Lisa found out about it, the more intrigued she became – so much so that she was driven to investigate the tragic events of a century ago. In her article A quest for the truth: Solving a true Tuscan mystery, she describes the process of unravelling the secrets behind Artemio Bruni's death. 

Death in the Mountains is Lisa's brilliant recreation of the life and death of Artemio Bruni, and an evocation of the world of the Tuscan mountains in the early 20th century. It is both a murder mystery and a beautifully observed picture of a lost Italy. It was reviewed by The Sydney Morning Herald and Australia's The Age

In 2009, Lisa was named the winner of the Australian Victorian Premier's Grollo Ruzzene Foundation Prize for Writing about Italians in Australia. Here's what the judges had to say about Death in the Mountains:

The world of the Italian peasant, hundreds of years in the making, is difficult to describe to the modern reader, as it is overlain with the memories and misconceptions that are mixed up in the migration process. In Death in the Mountains, Lisa Clifford intricately re-creates an almost forgotten world of a rural Italy, a world of peasant mezzadri (sharecroppers) governed by poverty, hard work, frugality and resourcefulness in which adversity is sometimes paradoxically mediated by both religion and superstition. The key factual events, particularly the murder of the family’s paterfamilias, Artemio Bruni, are located within a vivid reconstruction of the occluded world inhabited by these mezzadri. The details are astonishingly good, based on careful interviews with the descendants of Artemio and Bruna and their contemporaries, now very old people living on the margins of an Italian region better known for its glamorous villas and majestic urbanscapes. By drawing readers into the world of the Italian mezzadro peasant the story of the Bruni family, Clifford provides insight into the values, attitudes and ways that helped define the Italian peasantry and which subsequently moulded the lives of Italians both in Australia and Italy.


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