Swift, sinuous, deep and brimming with cultural artifacts.

THAT SUMMER IN SICILY

A LOVE STORY

From de Blasi (The Lady in the Palazzo, 2007, etc.), a fragrant tale of life and love in the mountains of Sicily.

Shortly after the Venetian interlude she luxuriously captured in A Thousand Days in Venice (2002), the author accepted an assignment to write a magazine article on the interior regions of Sicily. Like many other journalists, she was met by silence from the wary Sicilians. She was about to retire to the mainland when she stumbled upon Villa Donnafugata, whose romantic turrets, towers, balconies and chromatically tiled roof were surrounded by gardens, fields, piazzas and hills. The black-draped, oldish women in residence tended to their various labors, chanted, laughed and prayed. The sun was hot, the smell of herbs suffused the air. Was this a fever dream? de Blasi wondered. No, but it was surely a place from another time, and how it emerged out of feudalism through an act of moral modernity was a story unfurled to the author by the villa’s mistress, Tosca. The tale, which comprises most of the book, is a marvel. As a child of nine or ten, Tosca was sent by her horse-breeder father to live with a Sicilian prince, Leo, who “had a stallion that Tosca’s father wanted more than his daughter.” Early rebellion gave way to affection, then love. Together, in the years following World War II, the prince and his ward brought education, health care and a shared sense of purpose to the village around their manor. Rapture and grief came in measured doses, but ultimately Leo was run out of town for his affront to the “centuries’-old system of hierarchy that kept the wealthy in comfort and the poor in misery.” Even in 1995, when de Blasi first visited Donnafugata, the old ways abided, like the shawl Tosca wore at night, still permeated with the scent of her beloved.

Swift, sinuous, deep and brimming with cultural artifacts.

Pub Date: May 20, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-345-49765-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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Naughty good fun from an impossibly sardonic rogue, quickly rising to Twainian stature.

ME TALK PRETTY ONE DAY

The undisputed champion of the self-conscious and the self-deprecating returns with yet more autobiographical gems from his apparently inexhaustible cache (Naked, 1997, etc.).

Sedaris at first mines what may be the most idiosyncratic, if innocuous, childhood since the McCourt clan. Here is father Lou, who’s propositioned, via phone, by married family friend Mrs. Midland (“Oh, Lou. It just feels so good to . . . talk to someone who really . . . understands”). Only years later is it divulged that “Mrs. Midland” was impersonated by Lou’s 12-year-old daughter Amy. (Lou, to the prankster’s relief, always politely declined Mrs. Midland’s overtures.) Meanwhile, Mrs. Sedaris—soon after she’s put a beloved sick cat to sleep—is terrorized by bogus reports of a “miraculous new cure for feline leukemia,” all orchestrated by her bitter children. Brilliant evildoing in this family is not unique to the author. Sedaris (also an essayist on National Public Radio) approaches comic preeminence as he details his futile attempts, as an adult, to learn the French language. Having moved to Paris, he enrolls in French class and struggles endlessly with the logic in assigning inanimate objects a gender (“Why refer to Lady Flesh Wound or Good Sir Dishrag when these things could never live up to all that their sex implied?”). After months of this, Sedaris finds that the first French-spoken sentiment he’s fully understood has been directed to him by his sadistic teacher: “Every day spent with you is like having a cesarean section.” Among these misadventures, Sedaris catalogs his many bugaboos: the cigarette ban in New York restaurants (“I’m always searching the menu in hope that some courageous young chef has finally recognized tobacco as a vegetable”); the appending of company Web addresses to television commercials (“Who really wants to know more about Procter & Gamble?”); and a scatological dilemma that would likely remain taboo in most households.

Naughty good fun from an impossibly sardonic rogue, quickly rising to Twainian stature.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-316-77772-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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