A first novel of splendid surfaces and settings that promises to be a good read but trails off half-way through--and ends with the major characters being little more than vehicles for an old story with no new insights. Set in Italy and South America in the first half of the 20th century, the story is of two women--Dora, strong, willful, and at times even cruel; and Antonia, her timid but beautiful daughter. Told in a series of flashbacks and letters--occasionally confusing, for the narrative voice is not always clear--the novel begins with Antonia's childhood in the lovely villa her mother built on lands that had belonged to her peasant family. Antonia and her brother Marco are intimidated by their mother, who makes a point of doing whatever she wants, however eccentric or unkind. Both children long for the order their aristocratic father brings on his yearly visits from the Argentine, where he has his business. Dora takes lovers, disappears on mysterious trips, and collects rare coins. One of her lovers and a fellow collector, Count Mora, becomes a second father to the children and continues to help and advise them both after the affair has ended. The father dies, Marco goes to Argentine to work in the family business, and on the eve of WW II Antonia meets Arturo, who also has his home and business in South America. They soon marry, and Antonia sets off for the New World. There she finds strengths and abilities she never suspected as she helps Arturo in his business, which she continues to run after his sudden death. Mother and daughter sort of reconcile--Dora is no longer quite so fierce--and we chalk up yet another victory for daughters over their bossy but basically vulnerable moms. De Ferrari is a graceful and intelligent writer, but we've met all her characters somewhere before--frequently.