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Category Archive for 'Ic – Iv'

In 1984 twelve-year-old Pietro Guasti and his parents arrive in Grana, a quiet mountain village in northern Italy between Turin and Milan. Both parents love climbing the mountains, and though his father, who is at heart a loner, routinely climbs to the peaks of the higher mountains which attract him. Grana, a tiny farming village, has been losing its population, but it is adjacent to Monte Rosa, a well-known climbing location, which makes it attractive as a vacation site, far different from Pietro’s home in Milan. Pietro becomes fast friends almost instantly with Bruno Guglielmina, a local youth his age who is in charge of his family’s cows. Together they explore the mountain, the abandoned farms, a former school, and other places testifying to the decline of the village economy but fascinating for the images they conjure for the boys. The action throughout is quiet and thought-provoking, leaving the reader to sort through the various subplots and what they mean to both Pietro and Bruno as they try to find personal, emotional success – a sense of achievement based on effort and care for others. As this coming-of-age novel expands its themes and its characters, some face a future which they may not have been expecting. A surprising and very satisfying novel certain to appeal to those who appreciate understated, leisurely writing with much of value to say, and certainly to book clubs.

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Unusual and perhaps even unique for an American audience, Moshe Sakal’s The Diamond Setter follows three generations of several interconnected families as they move though Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and eventually Israel, following their dreams and their hopes for their families over the course of a century. Narrated in the present by Tom, much of the novel is a metafictional account of his life and his involvement in events surrounding a magnificent blue diamond which has been in the possession of members of his extended family for several generations. The diamond, however intriguing its story, is not the main story here, however. Rather, it is the belief of those who possess it, that the diamond has a mind of its own and that it can affect their lives in unexpected ways. An unusual novel with a casual, almost relaxed attitude toward major issues, The Diamond Setter is, nevertheless, a difficult and challenging study of the places all of us regard as home, especially when others, very different from ourselves, feel just as passionately that the same places are their homes, too.

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Daniele Mallarico, in his seventies, is on his way from Milan to Naples, where he has agreed care for his four-year-old grandson Mario for three days so that his daughter and son-in-law can attend a professional mathematics conference. Daniele, already late with the illustrations he has agreed to supply for a new edition of Henry James’s “The Jolly Corner,” has been ill, and he and his daughter have not been close, even during and after his recent surgery. He has not seen his only grandchild for two years, but the house where he will be staying is the one in which he grew up – and where has left ghosts – part of an elegant, centuries-old building overlooking the busy Piazza Garibaldi in Naples. Mallarico’s arrival in Naples begins author Domenico Starnone’s novel and is quite different from what one would expect from the above summary, the many blurbs on-line and printed on the book’s back cover, and the novel’s obviously “cute” cover illustration. For unknown reasons, the chosen cover shows ghostly images of a curious school-age girl exploring a modern, painted bureau, neither of which plays any role in this important literary novel. This novel is serious, not cute, despite its innate charm. Here the author uses irony and dark humor for his primary dramatic effects, contrasting the age and thinking of the elderly grandfather and his precocious grandson as he raises questions about how we become who we are, and what, if anything we can do about it.

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Winner of innumerable prizes in both Ireland, where he grew up and went to college, and Scotland, to which he moved permanently with his family during the Irish Troubles in 1975, Bernard MacLaverty has always had a special place in my heart. His writing is unpretentious, realistic, and often filled with ironic humor, even when he is dealing with the complexities of relationships and the honest feelings of his sometimes quirky characters. This novel, his first in sixteen years, is worth waiting for – a novel about an older, retired couple, Gerry and Stella, married for decades, who have pursued their own goals separately, while living together, and have now reached a point at which they must consider whether they are still truly in love. Wanting a brief vacation away from Scotland, to which they, like the author and family have moved permanently from Northern Ireland, they have decided to spend a few days in Amsterdam – or rather, the wife, Stella, has suggested the location because there is a special place there that she wishes to see. Her genuinely caring husband Gerry is amenable to whatever she wants, but he has been living recently in an alcoholic haze, and his primary concern has been hiding the physical evidence of his consumption from her. MacLaverty, combining both subtlety and sometimes outrageous honesty, reveals the inner hearts and minds of both of these characters at a variety of times in their long relationship, from courtship through early marriage, beginning careers, heartbreaks, and on up to the present. The future of their marriage is at stake on this “break.”

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“Calamity shapes the story…and is its reason for being.”

This old-fashioned saga of eighty years in a family’s life, from the Partition of Ireland in 1921 to the present, differs from other such novels in that it is very short, a mere 228 pages, packed with intimate character portrayals and enough heartache to fill a book three times its size. When three young men try to burn their estate during the Irish Rebellion in 1916, Lucy Gault, age nine, is frightened and runs away. For days her parents cannot find her until they receive “proof” that she has drowned. They disappear to Europe and never return. Lucy is brought up by two servants in her former house. Like many other authors who excel at short story writing, Trevor compresses images and scenes, and his well honed ability to make a few words do the work of dozens allows him to create a book which is simultaneously intensely personal and broad in its time horizon.

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