This first novel, first published in Italy in 2006, suggests that every individual’s story encompasses all the family history that has come before.
There’s a bit of a fairy-tale tone to Venezia’s multigenerational saga. It begins on March 27, 1861, the day that Rome was declared the capital of a newly united Italy, in the very poor town of Grottole, where olive oil has mysteriously begun to flow through the streets. It turns out that the screams of beautiful Concetta, in labor for the seventh time, were so loud they burst the jars in the storeroom below. The amount of oil lost would have supplied Concetta, her six daughters and every other member of Don Francesco Falcone’s family for a year, but the temperamental and extremely rich Don Francesco doesn’t care. He finally has the son he has been waiting nearly 20 years for. He’d promised to marry Concetta when she produced a boy, but fate intervenes. A post-unification revolt claims Don Francesco as a casualty, and ongoing political turmoil in Italy, including its involvement in two world wars, will further complicate matters for subsequent generations of Falcones. The daughters marry and spawn families of their own. By the time we reach the 1970s and Don Francesco’s great-granddaughter Gioia (who may have been narrating this family history all along), we certainly understand why a young woman would want “a life completely different from that of her parents. A life in which everything would be invented from scratch.” Yet in Gioia’s world, weighted down by family and history, there is no such thing as starting from scratch.
Readers will strain to keep generations of characters straight in a narrative that’s both compressed and overstuffed.