A curse and a vendetta follow two families from Sicily to Connecticut.
Rafalà’s debut comprises a triptych of novella-length sections, each narrated by a resident of Middletown, Connecticut’s Sicilian community. Overshadowing each story is the village of Melilli, Sicily, and its ancestral worship of the martyr St. Sebastian. Two families, the Vassallos and the Morellos, are descended from the original bearers who, centuries before, transported the statue of St. Sebastian to Melilli. David Marconi, a 13-year-old preparing for his confirmation in 1980s Middletown, does not learn that his true surname is Vassallo until he discovers a cache of mementos. He’s been bullied by classmate Tony Morello, and there are dark hints of a long-standing grudge between Rocco, Tony’s father, and David’s father, Salvatore. As David seeks to explain and perhaps end the feud, a tragedy ensues. Salvatore takes up the tale, revealing the cluster of incidents during World War II that caused the Vassallos to become personae non gratae in Melilli. The curse began with the accidental death of Salvatore’s twin brothers, who stumbled on unexploded American ordnance. Vincenzo, a Roman who fought for Mussolini, narrates the final section. His fate becomes intertwined with the Vassallos when he happens upon the family’s mountain hiding place and, later, when he rescues the orphaned Salvatore and his sister, Nella, and moves with them to America. The flowery prose of David’s section, replete with complex imagery, is more distracting than descriptive. Salvatore’s section as well as Vincenzo’s are told in more urgent and telegraphic language, perhaps in keeping with the more fraught times they are living through. David’s story, for all that it expresses his puzzlement over some generational strife to which he is not privy—by design, it would appear—never transcends the trite bullying plotline. As the Morello/Vassallo hostilities extend almost 50 years beyond the original provocation, we wonder why the combatants continue to inhabit the same Connecticut town. It’s a big country.
A sensitive account of all-too-human characters who fled one oppressive island only to create another for themselves.