In this luminous coming-of-age story, a boy absorbs the joys—and terrors—of life in an Italian village.
As the book chronicles a year in the life of a lad growing up on a small farm with his little sister and tensely dissatisfied working-class parents, the small town of La Croce offers a voluminous series of vivid set-pieces of peasant life. There are the sunlit mountain vistas and the timeless rhythms of wheat and grape harvests, arcane rites for warding off the evil eye, religious pilgrimages and knotty discussions of the Trinity, luscious meals and evenings spent at the boy’s warm-hearted grandparents’ farmhouse up the hillside, chasing fireflies and listening to tales of ruthless brigands, intrepid saints, philandering husbands and wives who get the last laugh. The boy’s existence revolves around small triumphs and sorrows—schoolyard fights, glimpses of an enchanting red-haired girl, the longing for a cowboy outfit like the ones in the movies—but he grows aware of darker undercurrents in his idyllic life: his father’s bitter class resentment, born of gnawing economic uncertainty; the gory slaughter of livestock that leaves the boy feeling guilt-stricken; smiling predators who lurk within the close-knit community. Working from his protagonist’s limited but keen perspective, Anonymo paints a sweeping social panorama of Italy in the ’60s, an era when rural life was yielding to a disruptive but hopeful modernity. La Croce is still ruled by age-old peasant verities such as the fearful understanding that “compared to hunger and pain, the rest of life is hardly real.” But also on the boy’s horizons are the Beatles and the Volkswagen Beetle, harbingers of an exciting future of glamour and pleasure; and weighing on everyone’s mind is the daunting, thrilling possibility of emigration to America. The author writes with a subtle, evocative prose that is at once earthy and lyrical. The boy’s fictive world emerges with such vibrant immediacy and immersive detail that we feel a powerful sense of loss when it starts to crumble.
An unforgettable re-creation of a vanished way of life.