Set in the present, in a little Italian fishing village and the city of Portogrande (Naples?) this is the story of a waif -- 12 year old Pasquale, one of ten children. After his father dies Pasquale's family is left near starvation and the children are sent out to beg or steal whatever food they can. The death of his sister and his thwarted attempt to steal his priest's alms box sends Pasquale off to Portogrande in search of better pickings. In Portogrande, destitute, Pasquale begins a precocious existence of robbing, begging, pimping and general depravity. Ill and useless, rejected by his ""friends"" he makes his way back to Mettani where he is be-friended by tourists. But it is already too late: infected by tuberculosis he is to spend his remaining days waiting for his death. In view of the fact that this is a vividly written novel it seems deliberately destructive that the author has managed to include in his story almost every possible cliche of situation and character: there is the cliche of the old, tired, muddled priest, trying to do an impossible job; the prostitute with the heart of gold; the English Catholic for whom the southern brand of her faith is incomprehensible; the agnostic Swede preaching his antiseptic notions of government to the unheeding Italians, etc., etc. ad tedium.