A new novel is wary, worldly, irreverent and concupiscent, gay- and on occasion sad, and observes the threadbare lives of an Italian city slum through the eyes of young Sergio. The time is just before the war. Here, Don Gastone, a youthful, handsome priest, is also a Don Giovanni to its many maiden ladies who hope to catch his eye as he ministers to their souls. Sergio and his friend Cena, a begging, thieving pair, are quick to benefit. At a recital where Don Gastone distributes comfort and blessings among the womenfolk, Cena empties their pocketbooks; as harbingers of love- and private intelligence, they inform on the priest and cadge food and money in exchange. A married woman, the Countess, attracts Don Gastone and all speculate over the intimacies exchanged; but it is young and glowingly seductive Fedora who really overwhelms him with desire and jealousy, and finds two more youthful admirers in Sergio and Cena. Sadder circumstances catch up with them all; Cena is sent to jail, and in attempting to escape, loses a leg and then his life; Don Gastone, tubercular, is sent to a sanatorium; and Fedora is left to her tears and the invidious speculations of the spinsters... Schooled by hunger and want, Sergio is a precocious commentator on the ways of the small world around him where drab poverty is relieved by impudence and impropriety.