THE ALMOND PICKER by Simonetta Agnello Hornby


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A morality tale unravels the mystery of an unlikely peasant girl and her Sicilian community.

Who was Mennulara, the spinster-maid of the Alfallipe family, who ran its finances and gave shelter to its widow after Judge Alfallipe died? Now that Mennulara herself is dead, tongues are wagging in the hill town of Roccacolomba. Was she a fine person or a servant-mistress with airs above her station? And why did the local mafia capo attend her funeral? Over the ensuing thirty days, every class, from priest to postal worker, will have something to contribute, in the way of reminiscence, observation, or judgment, while the snobbish Alfallipe family falls apart. First, they squabble over Mennulara’s instructions about her funeral notice. Then they cause a scene at the post office, in search of the monthly allowance she used to pay them. Their stereotypical foolishness reaches a high point over her posthumous instructions to arrange the valuation of eight previously hidden crates of Greek vases. When the museum declares them fakes, the enraged masters smash all the antiquities discovered in their library, cursing Mennulara for investing in worthless copies and eventually coming to blows among themselves. A subsequent letter explains Mennulara’s cunning plan: the export license granted for the fake vases could have been used to send the real ones—now in bits—out of the country, to be sold for a fortune. Additional gossip among village worthies reveals that Mennulara had been the mistress of Judge Alfallipe and his greatest love, but the true explanation for her untouchability and Midas touch arose from her teenage rape by the son of the mafia boss, Don Vincenzo Ancona. Twenty years after the event, the don did not refuse the offer she made him: continued silence in exchange for protection, investment advice, and respect. Now her money will fund a music competition. What are you gonna do?

More Clochemerle than The Leopard, Hornby’s debut deals in types, cliché, and picturesque charm.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-374-18234-5
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2005