From the author of nonfiction about female symbols (Monuments and Maidens; Alone of All Her Sex; Joan of Arc) and two previous novels (The Skating Party; In A Dark Wood): the imagined history of a southern Italian family up to the present-day generations in England and America; occasionally absorbing but flawed fiction. Anna Collouthar, who catalogs "ephemera" for a London museum in financial straits, is writing a memoir based on her Italian-born mother's recollections, and centered on the figure of her grandfather, Davide Pittagora--who, according to family legend, was shot during a duel of honor when young and died 20 years later as a result of lead poisoning from the bullet. Anna imagines the dreams of Davide and his sisters; their emigration to New York; and Davide's eventual return to Italy with his wife and children, who later must survive without him during the Mussolini era when their American sojourn makes them suspect. In spite of old-fashioned overwriting (intentional, perhaps, as a legacy from Davide, a composer of florid declamations), the story of the Pittagoras' fortunes is engaging, and the abundance of southern Italian lore interesting, but the presentation of Anna's present-day life is banal and at times just silly. All in all, then: a mostly well-rendered fictional picture of life in the impoverished and traditional South of Italy, marred by its ill-conceived setting.