After Sea of Memory (1999), De Luca offers another symbolic tale of adolescence, filling a few crucial months in the life of a Neapolitan boy.
When he turns 13, much happens to our narrator: he finishes with school; goes to work; falls in love; and waits as his mother becomes ill and dies. All of this takes place in a poor part of Naples known as Montedidio—God’s Mountain. And it does seem touched by God. The boy’s new job is as assistant to cabinet-maker Errico, for whom “the day is a morsel. One bite and it’s gone, so let’s get busy.” Errico gives over a corner of his shop to the humpback cobbler Rafaniello, refugee from a European village annihilated recently by WWII. In a gifted, saintly, almost magical way, Rafaniello, in this workshop of boy, cobbler, and carpenter, repairs the shoes of the poor so they’re as good as new. Another wooden object, meanwhile, plays a big part in the boy’s life: a boomerang, birthday gift from his father. Inside Rafaniello’s hump, we learn, are wings that before long will “hatch,” enabling their kindly owner, as he devoutly desires, to fly from Naples to Jerusalem. The boy, meanwhile, practices and practices how to throw his boomerang—without yet letting it go, since in crowded Montedidio “there’s not enough room to spit between your feet” let alone release a boomerang. But practice builds up his muscles, something noticed by Maria, a girl his own age who lives in his building and has been keeping her family from eviction through sexual favors to the aging landlord. That all ends, however, when her love for the boy gives her—and him—a new power, purity, and happiness. Themes converge—age, youth, desire, sanctity, flight—on New Year’s Eve, when things happen, or seem to, that bring all to a hopeful and lovely close.
A holiday tale of wondrously humble miracles without once becoming saccharine. Lovely indeed.