This Sicilian novel encompasses a multigenerational family—against a backdrop of war and the Mafia—as it tells the story of how a boy becomes a boxer and a man.
This debut by an Italian novelist with previous playwriting experience shows the maturation of a 9-year-old boy into a champion-caliber boxer, following in the footsteps of the father he never knew and the uncle who has trained him. It’s also a story of sexual awakening, as the protagonist’s lifelong attraction to a girl he met when she was 9 becomes complicated by his involvement with her friend. The first-person narrative leaps around chronologically while rarely straying far from Palermo, where Enia was raised. “Palermo has always been a powder keg,” he writes of the Sicilian capital, devastated by war and then terrorized by Mafia blood baths. Since all boxers have nicknames, the boy becomes known as Poet, a reflection of his sensitive, literary side, which will distinguish him from the brutishness surrounding him. Throughout the novel, the men are exceedingly macho, the women exaggeratedly sensual: “[H]er mouth, dripping with lipstick, prominent, fleshy, a living invitation to sin. When she swung her hips down the street, men went home with sprained necks….Heads of households went head over heels for her. Between her legs, months of hard-won savings were abandoned. Her cleavage was strewn with the wreckage of mortgages.” Though the price for such a woman is a comparatively straightforward transaction, the protagonist learns that “everything has a price, not even death comes for free, you have to pay for it with your life.” Though it can be a struggle to keep the narrative strands straight and see how they connect, a virtuoso climax ties everything together.
The over-the-top clichés seem to come with the fictional territory as the novel explores just what it means to be a man.