Christopher Castellani, Author . Algonquin $23.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-56512-389-2

Stendhal, in his book On Love, claimed that Italy was the home of passionate love because Italians take reverie as seriously as politics. Castellani, a young American writer, takes the Stendhalian viewpoint in this charming first novel. Vito Leone is a 17-year-old in the Italian village of Santa Cecilia in 1943, one of the few males who have not gone off to war. Vito is only intermittently aware of the fighting, since his attention is absorbed by the village beauty, Maddalena Picinelli. Vito is the village clown, living alone with his mother, Concetta, who suffers from a chronic mental disorder. Despite these circumstances, Maddalena reciprocates Vito's love. On the night that the Germans come through Santa Cecilia, blowing up buildings, Maddalena nearly decides to give herself to Vito, but to scare Maddalena into chastity, Carolina, Maddalena's shrewd sister, tells her of a young village woman who recently died in childbirth. The Picinellis flee to the countryside for the duration of the war, while Vito, in the mostly deserted village, cares for his mother. After the Germans nearly destroy the Picinelli house, Vito rebuilds it. When the Picinellis return to Santa Cecilia, they are surprised to find their house preserved, but they want to bestow Maddalena upon a prosperous Italian-American, Antonio Grasso. Will she sacrifice Vito for her family? Vito, Maddalena and Carolina are strong characters, and Castellani creates a velvety, cinematic atmosphere—a touch clichéd, but rich and effective nonetheless. Like a Verdi opera, Castellani's story creates a certain grandeur out of its own lightness. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/10/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Open Ebook - 351 pages - 978-1-56512-695-4
Paperback - 338 pages - 978-0-425-19642-7
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