The Homecoming Party by Carmine Abate
|The Homecoming Party by Carmine Abate|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Maurizio Valeri|
|Summary: A beautifully written tense family drama set in Southern Italy.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 192||Date: August 2010|
|Publisher: Europa Editions|
Every year young Marco eagerly awaits his father's return, when he can for a few months spend precious time with him before he leaves again. Marco's father Tullio is a migrant worker forced through poverty to work in Northern France doing hard manual work. In this way he manages to earn enough to help his family have a decent living. The family, his eldest daughter Elise now at college, Marco his only son and a younger sister known only as 'la piccola' along with his wife and elderly mother live in Calabria, an economically depressed area of southern Italy. They belong to the minority Arberesh community, descended from Albanian immigrants settling small villages in the mountainous regions of La Sila. Just as the Calabrian people are looked down upon by other Italians the Arberesh people are even looked down upon by the Calabrians.
The story starts at the Christmas festival in the main village square. Here Tullio and Marco sit around the traditional bonfire telling stories and each looking back on the last few years of their lives. Marco, now on the verge of manhood, begins to understand the sacrifices his father has made for the family and Tullio worries if those sacrifices however necessary have had lasting consequences for his family. Each of them hides a secret concerning the fate of a man whose affair with Marco's older half sister changed their life forever. As the evening moves on and each recounts past events through a series of flashbacks, the story slowly unfolds and each of them comes to a better understanding of the other.
Abate writes beautifully; it is easy to tell that he is an accomplished prizewinning poet. His prose has a lyrical quality, each sentence crafted in a simple style but still full of elegance and meaning. Set in an undetermined time but probably the 60's or 70's, the story is a touching portrait of family life showing how the relationship of family members changes with age. Underpinning the narrative is a mystery involving Marco's half sister Elisa. As each tells his side of the story the reader begins to uncover the truth about a mysterious stranger who has befriended her.
The beauty of this book lies in Abate's skill as a writer. His description of the Arberesh community including the use of their language is fascinating. The descriptive passages are spellbinding and verge on magical realism in the way the world takes on a mystical quality through the eyes of the young Marco. The story reminded me of Cesare Pavese's The Moon and the Bonfires. Pavese's book looked at the life of poor post war communities in northern Italy where young men were forced to emigrate to America to earn any money. Similarly Abate's book set slightly later, a time he grew up in, focused on the plight of the ordinary inhabitants of the poverty stricken south and their search for work in the by now more affluent northern Europe. Maybe the focus of the story around the large village bonfire is meant to pay homage to Pavese's earlier work. The realism of the characters and the setting also reminded me of another great Italian author Italo Calvino who in his early books focused on the life of poor villagers in German occupied Italy.
A mention also has to be made of the translator Anthony Shugaar who has managed to convey the eloquence of Abate's original prose in to English, not an easy task since the original is not only written in Italian but also part in the local Arberesh language.
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable book, beautifully written with a captivating cast of characters.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further reading suggestions: The Gypsy Tearoom by Nicky Pellegrino, The Food of Love by Anthony Capella, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
You can read more book reviews or buy The Homecoming Party by Carmine Abate at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Homecoming Party by Carmine Abate at Amazon.com.
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