This beautifully written, quietly moving story impressively completes Italian-Canadian novelist Ricci’s autobiographical trilogy (The Book of Saints, 1991; In a Glass House, 1995). In those previous installments, Ricci chronicled, in painstaking and often painful detail, the childhood and youth in the Italian village of Valle del Sole of Vittorio Innocente; his passage to North America with his mother Cristina, a disgraced adulteress who died while en route to a promised reconciliation with her betrayed husband; and the difficult adaptation to life in Toronto made by “Victor” (his name now Anglicized), his embittered and exhausted father, and Victor’s half-sister Rita, Cristina’s bastard daughter, who was adopted and raised by a neighbor family. This final volume brings Rita and Victor together, when his father commits suicide and her adoptive family separates. Their unexpected intimacy propels Victor into a rigorous self-examination—and a return to his homeland in hopes of learning the truth about his mother’s “sin” and the identity of Rita’s father (about which he already has suspicions). The shocks that are in store for him effectively estrange Victor/Vittorio as much from his own identity as from those he feels compelled to love, but this skillfully plotted story nevertheless ends on a credibly hopeful note, following a powerful climax in London—midway between its protagonist’s two “worlds.” Ricci, a former president of PEN Canada, is a superb stylist whose unpretentious prose carries an emotional charge that gathers so slowly and surely that we’re surprised to find ourselves so moved by his characters’ stoically borne crises. And his use of symbolism is especially deft (the presence of antiquarian relics scattered around Villa del Sole, for example, subtly mocks the elusiveness of Victor’s own buried past). An extended work that rivals Pat Barker’s much better known WWI trilogy, and a saga of the immigrant experience that is unrivaled in English (and, very likely, Italian).

Pub Date: July 15, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-18700-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1998

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.


Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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