An adventurous and troubled boyhood is piquantly detailed in this 2004 novel from a respected Italian author (Between Two Seas, 2008).
It begins one Christmas Eve in the Calabrian town of Hora (“where we speak...an old-fashioned form of Albanian”), as a conversation between Tullio, home for the holidays from France (where he works), and his adolescent son Marco, the novel’s primary narrator. This initiates a fragmented narrative that moves backward and forward in time, observing Marco’s delighted immersion in the pleasures of an embracing family and environment, while counterpointing these against Tullio’s memories of the lover (Morena) who bore his eldest daughter (Elisa), but died before they could marry. This sorrow is reborn during Tullio’s subsequent married life when Elisa matures, goes away to college and dallies with a married man, who keeps reappearing in Marco’s experience, sometimes as a friend and mentor, eventually emerging as the danger the suspicious Tullio always believed he would become. The novel is ever so slightly predictable and arguably underplotted. But its picture of life in a rural demi-paradise has real charm, as does Abate’s complex characterization of Marco—all boy, all but irresistible, yet emphatically not idealized (e.g., while recovering from a serious illness, he spitefully alienates himself from everyone he loves). Elisa is, necessarily, less fully revealed, and Tullio’s cryptic ingrained emotions are credibly linked to his mingled pride and guilt over “abandoning” his family in order to provide for them. The result is a compelling family chronicle in lucid miniature form.
Shugaar’s lyrical translation adds further luster to another entry in what one hopes will be a continuing series of publications of Abate’s impressive, immensely engaging fiction.