BEFANA'S GIFT by Natalie Carlson


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Befana's gift owes so much to circumstance that it might as well be a miracle--or another recompense for the honest, hard-working poor. On the seat of his carrozze (carriage) old Cesare feels like a charioteer, but what real Roman has no sons or grandsons? When an old lady consoles him by admiring the picture of his granddaughter Gemma, he laughingly calls after her, ""Perhaps you will leave one of your grandsons in my Epiphany stocking, Befana"". Enter Davide, a runaway shepherd from the Abruzzi, whom Cesare rescues from the carabinieri and shelters, eventually finding him a job and convincing his father to let him stay. Gemma, initially glad, becomes more and more jealous until, lying, she drives Davide away. Grandfather fades fast, Mamma futilely sets Davide's place, and even Gemma misses him. Setting out to find him, she is found by the old lady who recognizes her immediately, remembers her grandfather, identifies the missing boy with the promise made, and helps bring him back. Interspersed are such old Roman customs as pitching trash into the streets on New Year's Eve and children addressing the Christ Child from a pulpit in Santa Maria nel' Arcoeli on New Year's Day; also the giving of alms to beggars -- one of whom, with a baby, inspires Davide to make an impromptu and particularly poignant sermon. The book, too, is well-meaning and old-fashioned.

Pub Date: April 9th, 1969
Publisher: Harper & Row