Adriana is a whore, but a good one. She has taken a very difficult profession – to satisfy sexually men, who provoke contrary feelings in her. And Adriana is very good at putting aside her own disgust while simulating passionate love. Adriana derives sensual pleasure from money – getting paid for her sexual activities brings her pleasure. And yet, Adriana has an enveloping personality, one that assumes good in all people, one that doesn’t judge others and herself, and one that accepts her life the way it is without complaining. Are we to judge her?

Alberto Moravia, one of the most prominent Italian authors, creates an amazing novel about sexuality, social alienation, existentialism, and morality through the eyes of a Roman prostitute in the 1940s. When we first meet Adriana, she is posing as a model for various artist in Rome. Her mother, a poor woman of little virtue, is convinced (as is Adriana herself) of the immense beauty of her daughter. She believes Adriana can use this beauty to advance in life and to get from men anything she wants. Judging the mother is easy if we don’t take into account her hard life. A model herself, she had to give up her dreams when getting pregnant and to reconcile to a life with a poor man with no prospects. Her only purpose in life is to make sure her daughter doesn’t go the same way. At the beginning the 16th-year-old Adriana is a naive young girl, who dreams of finding a husband, having children, and leaving in a clean white house. Her dreams of a calm and ordinary life seem very close to reality when she meets the charming Gino. Their love affair is about to reach marriage, when Adriana discovers a shocking secret. Her world is shaken; she turns to the only profession that her beauty can bring her – prostitution.

The oldest profession in the world is hardly the easiest, as most people would think. It takes a great personality not to succumb into the dirt and the immorality and to remain a good person. It also takes a great personality to accept your faith and to be happy with life. And it takes an immense amount of self-control and courage in order to please men you despise. Adriana possesses all of this and more. Indeed, she feels extreme pleasure of getting money from her clients. She is aroused by violence. She sleeps with men while her mother is in the other room. And yet, Moravia magically portrays her as a saint. The cliche of the good whore is no longer a cliche when it comes to Adriana. She is compassionate, warm, and understanding. She attracts men not with vulgarity but with character. She manages to seem something good and respectable in everyone. She is forgiving and understanding. She doesn’t hate people that steal from society, even people that steal from her. She accepts, forgives, and welcomes any form of human flaw. She is not jealous of other people’s successes and most importantly she accepts herself the way she is. Maybe I was born to satisfy men, maybe this is the purpose of my body, she says. And why should I change if that is how God intended me to be?

How many of us can actually admit of being satisfied with ourselves. We constantly compare our lives to other people’s, we are jealous of their success, we keep trying to change ourselves to some form that society has imposed to us. We love to judge others; we love to judge ourselves. When hurt, we hate and seek revenge. We blame others for our misfortunes and we are never happy with what we have. And most importantly, we fail to see that there is something good in everyone, from the whore to the killer. In that sense, Adriana is a saint, as close to Mary Magdalene as it can possibly be.

The prostitute also has a heart – she also can fall in love. Adriana meets Mino, a radical student who spends his days writing pamphlets and organizing meetings against the Fascist government. Their love story is hurtful and painful. Mino commits to Adriana despite his will in order to punish himself. And she, with all of the warmth of her heart subordinates to his desires. She is ready to beg, to drag in front of him, to humiliate herself. And yet, Moravia doesn’t make us despise her. Instead, we admire Adriana for her strength. Because it is exactly what it takes – a woman’s strength to love someone, to accept his failures, to put up with his behavior, to understand how his past and present affect his actions towards you, and to have the patience to slowly but surely pull him towards you. This is what only a woman with an admirable personality, with enduring patience, and with a warm heart can do.

Moravia is one of those authors who you should read before you die. He has successfully placed himself in the shoes of a woman; he becomes Adriana and thus we become Adriana as well. At first I was astonished that a man can write from the point of view of a woman. Moravia, however, understands the heart of women better than some female authors do. On top of that, his men characters are enchanting as well. The weak fraud Gino, the Fascist policeman Astarita, the killer Sonzogno, and the depressed radical student Mino are all absorbing characters. Villains, sexual addicts, liars, they are all attracted to Adriana in a different way and they all play a special role in her life.

When I started flipping the pages, I was both impatient to keep reading and prompted to stop. The novel is full with disaster, treachery, betrayal, and sexual abuse. Yet, I started living with the characters and in them. Rarely I have read an author who is so good in portraying characters that at the end of the novel I feel I have known forever. I wanted it to end and I didn’t want it to end. I wanted the villains to be hurt and yet I felt some compassion for them. One thing didn’t change – I loved Adriana from the first page to the last. She will remain one of the greatest woman characters I have encountered so far and Moravia – one of the most influencing and enchanting storytellers.