A well-crafted and affecting literary tale about a young Italian miner.

THE HUNGER SAINT

From the Via Folios series , Vol. 120

A debut novella tells the story of child workers laboring in Sicily’s sulfur mines.

Sicily, 1948. After his father is killed in a mining accident, 12-year-old Ntoni is sent by his mother to take the dead man’s place: “She signed Ntoni over to the Miniera Cozzo Disi mines to work off the soccorso morto, a loan given to his family on the promise of his labor.” The contract is for seven years. As one of the carusi—or child miners—Ntoni faces backbreaking conditions that will likely lead to a premature death. He has no recourse but to pray to St. Calogero, the Hunger Saint, and hope that his indentured servitude will pass quickly. When the mine’s mechanic, Ziu Peppi, tells the boy that his father had been putting money away to immigrate to France, Ntoni is offered the same opportunity. He could escape his life and build a new one abroad, though he is unsure what this might mean for his family and its debt with the mining company. His mother assures him that his father had planned no such thing, but Ntoni decides to trust the mechanic—though to trust anyone, it turns out, may be just as dangerous as gas pockets, tunnel collapses, and the brutality of the mine bosses. Cerrone tells her story in a deliberative prose flecked with Italian terms and mining jargon, perfectly evoking both the setting and time period of this piece of historical fiction. The tale brings to mind American literary realism of the early 20th century—Upton Sinclair, Jack London—as well as the books of midcentury Sicilian writers like Leonardo Sciascia. Cerrone uses Ntoni’s experiences to shed light on the little-remembered soccorso morto practice, which held thousands of children in virtual slavery. The most memorable elements of the novella are the horrific conditions in which Ntoni and his peers must toil: “Each month at least one miner or caruso perished in some way. Yet they continued to work, resigned to their proximity to death.” In this proximity, Cerrone seeks to discover the necessities of life.

A well-crafted and affecting literary tale about a young Italian miner.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59954-106-8

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Bordighera Press

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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