Sampler: The Secret Language of Women by Nina Romano

A beautiful and harrowing landscape of love found, lost, and hunted for – at all costs and with dire consequences.

Set in China in the late 1800’s, The Secret Language of Women tells the story of star-crossed lovers, Zhou Bin Lian, a Eurasian healer, and Giacomo Scimenti, an Italian sailor, driven apart by the Boxer Rebellion.

When Lian is seventeen years old, she accompanies her Swiss father, Dr. Gianluca Brasolin, fluent in Italian, to tend the Italian ambassador, at the Summer Palace of Empress Dowager, where she meets and falls in love with Giacomo.

Through voyage and adventure, their love intensifies, but soon is severed by Lian’s dutiful promise as the wife to another. Forbidden from pursuing her chosen profession as a healer, and despised because she does not have bound feet, she is forced to work in a cloisonné factory while her in-laws raise her daughter, Ya Chen. It is in Nushu, the women’s secret writing, that she chronicles her life and her hopes for the future.

Rebelling against the life forced upon her, she empowers herself to act out against the injustice and becomes the master of her own destiny. But her quest for freedom comes at a costly price: The life of someone close to her, lost in a raging typhoon, a grueling journey to the Yun-kang Caves, and a desperate search for beauty and love in the midst of brutality.

Nina Romano

Sampler: The Secret Language of Women, Chapter 1






A servant appeared, set before me a tray of tea and some deep fried bean curd with a light soy sauce, bowed and left, backing up as if I were royalty. At his gesture, I smiled but that faded fast. One of the honor guard sailors appeared in the alcove and beckoned me. Not only was I astonished to see a man here, but this particular man with the large brown eyes was the very one who’d winked at me—ah, for certain, this was the hour of the impulsive rat.

He called to me in Italian in a soft, strong voice. Had he followed me here? How did he know I understood him?  He must have overheard me talking to Father. I stood, a little shaky on my feet. He was a god, tall past the lowest willow branch that canopied the space between us, so handsome in a European way, like my Father, and his smile illuminated his face—round eyes the size of chestnuts held mirth and youth. I stopped quaking, and began to walk with steady gait. I never once looked down. His gaze held me until I stood in front of him, looking up into his smooth-cheeked face. He no longer smiled. A cloud covered the sickle of moon.

His serious expression conveyed a question, but I couldn’t fathom its meaning. And then he spoke, saying, “Sei la piừ bella raggaza che ho visto mai.”

The way he said that I was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen sounded to my ears like music from a piper, and I wanted to follow him anywhere, this man, who saw past my ungainly big feet and ugliness straight to the center of my soul. Though how could I believe him, a much-traveled sailor? He stood at parade rest—an expression Father had told me was a more relaxed one than that of attention, though it looked rigid to me. I moved closer. Nothing of his body shifted as he held a bayoneted rifle in front of him. Only his eyes moved. They simply made me step into the space that embraced him, as he leaned down and placed his warm, soft mouth upon mine. A kiss I’d only dreamed of until now.

I thought I would faint from terror and pleasure. My mind begged permanence, but how could it when that was wholly irrational? When he pulled his lips away and straightened, I inhaled deeply his sandalwood cologne and tobacco. He whispered, “Non dimenticarmi mai.”

I repeated like a child, learning a lesson by rote, “Mai, e poi mai.”

He flipped his rifle to his shoulder, saluted, and at the sound of footfalls on the parquet floor, did an about face. As he walked away, I wondered if I’d ever learn his name.

I touched my lips, again murmuring in Mandarin, “Never. Never will I forget.”

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