The Fiery Alphabet


It’s dangerous for a girl to be a mathematical prodigy in eighteenth-century Rome.

Daniela Messo and her father withdraw themselves from the world until Giuseppe Balsamo, occultist and charlatan, finds them, convinced Daniela has inherited the secrets of a long-dead Jewish mystic. In Balsamo's company, Daniela sets off across Europe en route to Jerusalem, as they play the role of wonder-working pilgrims, swindling people even as they seek salvation. 

Daniela's astonishing story was lost to history until intrepid explorer Diane Lefer unearthed a trove of documents and translated them so that this sensitive, shocking, often subversive material can now be made public. 

Across the centuries, Daniela speaks to us of love and betrayal, fraud and faith, the ongoing conflict between science and religion and carries us to the streets of Rome, Polish forests, fields, and villages,  the Sultan's harem in Constantinople, and beyond.

Her struggle to find a woman's place in the world for her body, mind, and soul tells us how far society has come and how far we still must go. 


“What an enchanting and wondrous book. Exploring the mysteries of love and faith in a language so refined it reads like a poem, Lefer transports the reader into eighteenth-century Europe, a complex world pulsing with fecund desire and unrelenting poverty, but ripe, too, with fools and intellectuals as curious and confused as they are devout. In a voice as unique and thrilling as any I’ve encountered in literature, Daniela Messo seeks the secrets not only of her past, but of life itself.”
—Robin Oliveira, author of My Name Is Mary Sutter

The Fiery Alphabet is a stunning and ambitious novel—philosophical and deeply sensual all at once. Diane Lefer writes with fire on every single page, taking the reader straight to the molten core of life.”

Gayle Brandeis, author of The Book of Dead Birds