cover image Prince of the Clouds

Prince of the Clouds

Gianni Riotta. Farrar Straus Giroux, $24 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-374-23725-7

The co-editor of the Italian newspaper La Stampa has crafted an intelligent romance of wide-ranging appeal, reminiscent of the film Il Postino and Louis de Berni res's Corelli's Mandolin. A bestseller in Italy, it is the first of Riotta's novels to appear in an English translation. Carlo Terzo, a charmingly shy scholar of military strategy (who has never experienced combat), finds himself exiled from the political maelstrom of post-WWII Rome to a picturesque seaside villa in Palermo, Sicily. He arrives with two simple intentions: to work quietly on his Manual for Strategic Living and to tend to his beautiful, ailing wife, Russian migr Princess Emma. Terzo becomes unwittingly embroiled, however, in conflicts between the local peasantry and aristocracy, which challenge his theory that strategy is the key to victory, even in daily life. This beautifully set story revolves so closely around its admittedly engaging protagonist that the other characters are somewhat shadowy. Terzo becomes tutor to Salvatore Dragonara, a sensitive young Communist who dreams of being a poet, and Fiore, a free-spirited, rebellious young aristocrat who is the daughter of the ferociously protective Duchess Mastema. This unlikely couple teaches him a few lessons about applying the principles of war to battles of love. When he is caught in a surprise melee between rebel peasants and armed bandits, Terzo's military scholarship is put to the test. But his extensive intellectual knowledge proves to be of only limited use in saving the lives of the people he loves. Like the ""prince of the clouds"" of Salvatore's poetry, Terzo is eventually forced to come down to earth and grapple with the complex and unpredictable human soul. Presented in an accomplished translation, with atmospheric, attractive illustrations by Matteo Pericoli, this lofty but poignant and seductive novel ambitiously distills tragic romance, political conflict and military history into one man's struggle to draw wisdom from the mistakes and triumphs of the past. (May)