The story of a family-run bar on a tiny island off the coast of Sicily, from 1914 to 2009.
This knockout adult debut by young British author Banner (she started writing teen novels at age 14) is guaranteed to draw comparisons to Beautiful Ruins, Cutting for Stone, and The House of the Spirits, whisking us away to a world grounded in both reality and myth, filled with marvelously peculiar characters, plotted on a grand scale. This one begins in the early 20th century with an Italian orphan, Amadeo Esposito, who overcomes his circumstances to study medicine, then answers a call for a physician on the (fictional) island of Castellamare. He arrives just in time for the annual feast for the island’s patron saint. The story of Sant’Agata, who saved the island from a plague of sorrows, is told to Amadeo by the beautiful schoolteacher Pina Vella; he adds it to the compendium of stories he collects in a red leather book given him by his foster father. At first, the villagers embrace Amadeo; he marries Pina and has a son. But thanks to past judgment errors of his own and the corrosive effects of the constant flow of gossip in the town, Amadeo is disgraced and removed from his post. To earn a living, he and Pina reopen the bar in the long-neglected House at The Edge of Night; there, three generations of Espositos will serve coffee, rice balls, and limoncellos to locals and visitors. World wars I and II, the Fascist period, and the financial crisis of 2009 all play critical roles in the plot, but so do the folk tales from Amadeo’s logbook, reprinted at the start of each section. So you get both this: “In the bar, there was some disagreement over how the trouble had started....Some of the customers maintained that it had begun with two rich Americans, Freddie and Fannie, others that it had started with two brothers named Lehman…” and this: “Two brothers were fishermen upon the sea, both very handsome and so alike that nobody could tell them apart, and both very poor.”
Ah, what fun. Don’t miss it.