Holy Jester! The Saint Francis Fables

Dario Fo, trans. from the Italian by Mario Pirovano. Opus, $38.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-62316-082-1
This illustrated collection of fictionalized vignettes by the late Nobel Prize–winning playwright Fo (The Pope’s Daughter) is a touching ode to the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Fo opens with an introduction that lays out the purpose of the fables: to revive a version of the saint based on historical materials, many of which the Vatican destroyed in order to present a docile, sanitized Francis for the canon. (Fo’s information is based on the work of historian Chiari Frugoni, who draws on sources, such as Thomas of Celano, that escaped censure for centuries in Italian churches and libraries.) Fo’s Francis is irreverent, antiauthoritarian, creative, and devoted to the poor and his faith. The fables themselves are told largely via dialogue, translated into contemporary-sounding (albeit somewhat clunky) English by Pirovano: “He really was a bona fide jester with all the tricks of the trade up his sleeve.” Though these lengthy exchanges sometimes seem better suited to the stage, they effectively convey Francis’s grandiose, comic personality and the lively society that surrounded him. Readers will follow his adventures communing with animals, persuading the pope to allow him to preach, combating traditional hierarchy and violence, and outsmarting objections to his approach to Christianity. The tales are aided considerably by Fo’s bright, distinctive illustrations, which both pay homage to and transcend the stories’ 13th-century setting. Readers may not be left with a substantive understanding of St. Francis’s biography, but Fo succeeds in bringing him to lasting, appealing, revisionist life. Agent: Domitilla Ruffo, Agenzia Danesi Tolnay (Italy). (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 11/20/2017
Release date: 12/01/2017
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 128 pages - 978-1-62316-016-6
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