The Book of Saints

Nino Ricci, Author Knopf Publishing Group $19 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-40118-6
This debut novel masterfully evokes a tiny Italian community in the Apennines. It's 1960, the inhabitants pay tribute to the Virgin, but neither modernity nor religion has gained ascendancy over popular awe of ``the tremendous forces which envy stirred up, forces age-old and sacred, ones that found their incarnation in the evil eye.'' Narrator Vittore, age seven, watches as the villagers ostracize his mother, Cristina, when she is bitten by a snake, which to them seems a token of certain punishment for her ongoing affair with a German soldier who, apparently, deserted during WW II. As they whisper of lu malocchiu , the evil eye, the schoolmistress shares with Vittore a copy of the Lives of the Saints . For la maestra , ``the saints are not merely the ghosts of some mythical past but an ever-present possibility, the mundane and everyday verging always on the miraculous''; for Vittore, and perhaps for Ricci as well, the Lives , especially the discussion of Saint Cristina, furnishes an alternate paradigm for understanding Cristina's downfall. If parallels between the saint and the defiant village woman are forced, this weakness is handsomely offset by Ricci's unsentimental depictions of the sway of superstition and ritual, of the mystical undercurrents of village life and of the overarching mystery of childhood itself. A citizen of both Italy and Canada, Ricci received the 1990 Canadian Governor General's Award for Fiction. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/29/1991
Release date: 05/01/1991
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-312-13441-9
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