Maria Zef was considered the farthest limit of verismo in contemporary Italian literature when it was first published in 1936. Like the great films to come after the war, Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief, Paola Drigo's gritty novel portrays the struggle to come of age or even survive in a harsh environment. But its setting is more rural and its protagonist is a young girl whose voice will now be heard around the world in this English translation by Blossom Steinberg Kirschenbaum. Born in the medieval town of Castelfranco in the Veneto, Paola Drigo (1879-1938) wrote frankly about the poor and brutal lives of toilers in preindustrial northern Italy. Maria Zef, her masterpiece, focuses on the orphaned Maria, who assumes responsibilities beyond her years in protecting her baby sister and staying alive. Poverty, toil, illness, solitude, and abuse contribute to one of the most horrifying climaxes in modern fiction.