Could the Devil be a sweetheart? Sure, in a topsy-turvy fantasy like this one, where fruited breads and fine salamis are almost as important as the love triangle at its heart.
Schonstein-Pinnock sets her second novel (but first to appear here) in post-apartheid South Africa, in a Cape Town enclave of first-generation Italians and Jews. The story, short on plot, focuses on Primo Verona, an Italian Jew, his wife Beatrice, and another Italian Jew, Pasquale Benvenuto, the three having been best friends since childhood. Primo is a soothsayer and magician (good magic only), while Pasquale owns a deli and is known as the best baker and salami maker in Cape Town. Beatrice and Pasquale were lovers before the shy, virginal Primo proposed to Beatrice, and, after their marriage, the three still remained friends. Then, 20 years later, Pasquale pressures Beatrice to leave Primo and return to him. The magician is devastated. His spells go awry. Without meaning to, he ruins Pasquale’s business, and then, intending to summon Beatrice home, he produces the Devil instead. Surprise! Lucifer is as angelic as before his fall: Beautiful in appearance, serene in nature, still working for God, and setting limits to man’s destructiveness, he corrects Primo’s spells and restores the deliciousness of Pasquale’s breads and meats. While Schonstein-Pinnock celebrates the kitchen, she also acknowledges man’s inhumanity through flashbacks (too many of them). Primo was raised by his father and aunt, both Holocaust survivors, while Pasquale’s father, in Rome, was forced into hiding from the Gestapo. Later, Primo and Pasquale, as conscripts, witnessed atrocities during a war in Angola. A journalist enabled Aunt Lidia to survive the journey to Auschwitz by whispering stories of angels; Pasquale’s father survived confinement by listening to the food fantasies of his comrades in hiding, a butcher and a baker. Somewhat glibly, Schonstein-Pinnock sprinkles these memories like gold dust over the brutal realities faced by young woman and small boy.
An agreeable confection. Enjoy it for its glittering artifice, but don’t look for depth.