I am having a hard time deciding whether to give this four of five stars..... It was truly lovely. You walk away from the book happy b/cNO SPOILERS!!!
I am having a hard time deciding whether to give this four of five stars..... It was truly lovely. You walk away from the book happy b/c you have met some really kind, nice, compassionate and yet perfectly NORMAL people. The story is soothing. You spend all of your time chuckling. I will try and explain.
The book is about a family that lives in an Albanian village in southern Italy. The author comes from Calabria. He knows the milieu and the traditions he is describing. He grew up there, and you feel this. I hadn't known that there are several Albanian villages in southern Italy, but that is not so surprising b/c Albania is just on the other side of the Adriatic Sea! There is quite a bit of Albanian text, but all is translated. Thank goodness! The story is about one family in the small village called Hora. The problem, well one of them, is that there are few employment possibilities. You simply cannot provide for a family with the pay from those jobs that are available. So the father spends months every year working in a coal mine, or building roads, most often in France. These are hard labor jobs, and he works his butt off! The oldest daughter, Elisa, is at college. Then there is Marco, the son is 10. This book is a coming-of-age story about him and really his older sister Elisa too. La Piccola is the youngest daughter. It is Marco and his father who alternately tell the story. When the father speaks it is always at the Christmas bonfire, the most important event of the Christmas season in the village. The father always returns before Christmas, always laden with splendid toys, always playing a pivotal position in the village festivities, and he always he takes every opportunity to be with his kids. He is a great father. OK, he is gone most of the time but when he is home he is the central figure. All the kids adore him. You see it and feel it and end up loving this little family. But you also see the hardships caused by the need for this father to be out of the country for months on end due to the lack of sufficient employment. When he must leave not only the kids and the mother are torn, but so is the reader. His experiences in a coal mine are vividly depicted. I do not want to work in a coal mine. Never has such been made so real to me.
But there is more. This is a family. As in all families, where we love each other, we get emotionally ripped up over issues and then arguments EXPLODE! You have this here too. And you have sorrow. You have sexual awakening. You have the weight of learning to keep a promise. Yes, everything that we all experience are in this teeny little book of 171 pages. Oh, and there is a dog, Spertina!!! God I love Spertina. The things that happen, the things she does.....
I have saved the best for last. The writing is gorgeous. You smile, you chuckle. Yes, on every single page. Some lines are exquisite. Some are funny. Some are profound.
Here is a quote from page 24:
"'This is the soccer ball my father brought me all the way from France, it's only for me, go away,' I said to Nicolino, to Mario, to Pepè, and to Vittorio. 'But just smell that leather.' And when they drew near, I held the ball high over my head, and repeated:'Ecni Këté', go away!' Spertina barked and barked, out of her mind with joy; she'd taken a position at my feet as if to defend me from the attacks of the other children, but not from my father, who ran straight toward me, lifted me up in his arms and threw me into the air, along with the soccer ball."
Page 38: "Wild boars are real bastards, as dangerous as wanted criminals."
Page 39: "The future for a child is an empty word. I wanted to be close to my father every day of my present life. Always."
Page 52: One afternoon the heat was intolerable. At first we had decided to play soccer with my leather ball in the little slivers of shade in the lanes. Usually, I battled like a lunatic to score a point in these games and, if it looked like I wouldn't win, I'd end the game in my own way. I'd grab my soccer ball and run home with it."
The people in this family are no better, no worse than you or I. They are just like us. They are fumbling along, doing good things and also making mistakes.
I simply must give this book five star. The writing is fantastic. I am immediately going to add Between Two Seas. I must read more by this author. I will not be waiting around to buy this one. I should not be buying another book, but I MUST....more
This author writes historical fiction as it really should be written. Few authors succeed as she does. She takes all the facts of the time and peopleThis author writes historical fiction as it really should be written. Few authors succeed as she does. She takes all the facts of the time and people and teaches it all to the reader by adding a few fictional characters. The only fictional characters added to this novel are a cat, a gondolier, the main protagonist and her family and husband. Even the husband is a brother of a “real person”. These fictional characters are expertly woven into the real events. It is amazing how closely the author has stuck to the real events. You must be interested in knowing the factual details of the lives of Byron and Casanova. You will be given an extensive quantity of details. You must ask yourself if you will be interested in these details. That will tell you whether this book is for you or not.
There is an excellent epilogue that states yes, this was true and this and this and even this too. You will be amazed that so much of this is completely true. Through the fictional characters all the people and events are tied together. Through the fictional character we go under the skin into the minds of Byron and Casanova. I believe that what the author has “guessed at” is most probably true. The fictional elements are wonderful, but if you are not interested in learning about the real people, about life in Venice and historical events and literature of that time, then you might be bored at times.
Now for the fictional part: I loved the fictional story just as much as the history imbibed. I loved the descriptions of Venice. I loved the cat and the gondolier because they were so wise. And I like that it was a cat and only a “nobody gondolier” that were so darn smart. I loved the ending and the message it gave and what it said about each of the characters. In truth, I loved more HOW the message was fed to us than the message itself. It was the little details of how the moral was said that made my enjoyment of the book so thorough. It is not where a book goes that is that important to me, but rather how it gets to the end point. For example, I love how chocolate plays in at the end, just as much as the final moral given. And I loved the Venetian proverbs that began every chapter. And I loved Casanova, but hated Byron, although I grew to understand what drew women to him.
If I were smarter, if I had known more before starting this novel, I probably would have given it five stars. I was bored at points only due to my own ignorance. The more I read, the more I learned, and the more I enjoyed the book.
Oh, yes! The book is about love, all kinds of love. However if you want a simple love story, do not pick this. ...more
A different bridge, a different river and a different time but the story of this book's bridge and the story of the bridge depicted by the Bosnian autA different bridge, a different river and a different time but the story of this book's bridge and the story of the bridge depicted by the Bosnian author Ivo Andric in The Bridge on the Drina are ultimately the same. I prefer Andric's story. There is a beauty in Andric's story that shines. Here desolation is the prominent tone. I was haunted by the similarity. How can one author copy another like this?! Read the original by Andric. ...more
I loved this book. Why? Well, what I loved most was the writing style. I scarcely realized I was learningREVISED REVIEW! I was tired last night......
I loved this book. Why? Well, what I loved most was the writing style. I scarcely realized I was learning about the events occurring in Albania 1941-43!
The book description here at GR is practically nonexistent so I will explain a bit. Although fiction,this book is in fact about the author’s own experiences during the Second World War, when he was a child growing up in Gjirokastër, Albania. This is an ancient city near the Albanian Greek border. In 1939 Mussolini occupied Albania, but thereafter control switched several times between the Italians and the Greeks. Finally near the end of the war and until the summer of 1944, the Germans occupied Albania, The book does not continue through to the war’s end. Gjirokastër was extensively bombed. There were also fighting going on between the three dominant resistance movements: Isa Toska”s men (representing the Legaliteti, backing the exiled King Zog), the Ballists and finally the Partisans, who were Communists. This civil war led finally to the Communist takeover by Envor Hoxha. He too was from Gjirokastër. The city is made of stone houses, topped with slate rooves. When you leave your front door you are at the edge of your neighbor's roof - the slope is steep! This gray city has a strong presence in the novel. Trees and foliage, lawns and bushes are not what you find here. Such a world is far away only imagined at the markets where the peasants bring in their produce. The city has arisen from the earlier Turkish landowning people. It is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the book, the city itself, has an identity! This is the setting for the young boy’s experiences. Violent times, to say the least.
Culturally the city has a Muslim Turkish heritage. This contrasts against the Greek/Christian/peasant culture. All of this is woven into the story. Different cultures, strange beliefs, bizarre people and shocking events – they are all part of this novel. At the center is a young boy trying to understand it all.
One might think that such a time and place would not be the setting for a book filled with humor. This book IS filled with humor and irony. The boy is so imaginative, the words and thoughts will delight you. Sometimes you laugh at the kids’ lack of understanding, their attempts to understand an adult world that logically cannot be understood. Words and events are misunderstood, and we who read can chuckle at the search for knowledge and the irony of the crazy world that engulfs the city Diverse themes, from magic to girls to war to Shakespeare to sexual deviants, are all present. The author plays with words.
And yet this is about war and when the tone suddenly switches you are struck by the huge contrast. Only by first laughing do you come to feel totally devastated when things go wrong. All of a sudden I realized how invested I had become in these people.
There is a pronunciation guide and an exemplary introduction written by David Bellos. I read the introduction after finishing the book. I advise doing this. Often I dislike introductions. I hate it when they tell you how to interpret lines or tell us what we should be thinking/feeling! This introduction does not do that. It adds historical fact so you better understand the story itself. It tells of how Kadare rewrote this story repetitively. It explains what version we have in our hands. It speaks of the translator Arshi Pipa. Don't skip the introduction! It is very interesting, but first read the novel and let yourself be carried away by the play on words and imagination.
I absolutely adored the literary style! I was emotionally captivated by these characters. Perhaps, as the introduction points out, there is even more said between the lines, but first just sit back and enjoy the story. Remember it is fiction. Don’t demand that it fulfills the criteria of logical sense, just enjoy it. Well that is what I think. I would not consider giving this book anything but five stars. I loved it. Every bit of it. It drew a picture of a difficult time and place. First it was very amusing and then it socked me in the stomach. .
Here follows just one example of the humor found in this book:
The last Italians left during the first week of November, four days after the evacuation of the aerodrome. For forty hours there was no government in the city. The Greeks arrived at two in the morning. They stayed for about seventy hours and hardly anyone even saw them. The shutters stayed closed. No one went out in the street. The Greeks themselves seemed to move only at night. At ten in the morning on Thursday the Italians came back, marching in under freezing rain. They stayed only thirty hours. Six hours later the Greeks were back. The same thing happened all over again in the second week of November. The Italians came back. This time they stayed about sixty hours. The Greeks rushed back in as soon as the Italians had gone. They spent all day Friday and Friday night in the city, but when dawn broke on Saturday, the city awoke to find itself completely deserted. Everyone had gone. Who knows why the Italians didn't come back? Or the Greeks? Saturday and Sunday went by. On Monday morning footsteps echoed in the street where none had been heard for several days. On either side of the street women opened their shutters gingerly and looked out. It was Llukan the jailbird, with his old brown blanket slung over his right shoulder. In his kerchief je was carrying bread and cheese, and was apparently on his way home.
"Llukan!" Bido Sherofi's wife called from a window.
"I was up there," said Llukan , pointing to the prison. "I went there to report, but guess what? The prison is closed."
There was almost a touch of sadness in his voice. The frequent changes of rulers had made mincemeat of his sentence, and this put him out of SORTS.
"No more Greeks or Italians, you mean?"
"Greeks, Italians, it makes no difference to me," Llukan answered in exasperation. "All I know is the prison isn't working. The doors are wide open.Not a soul around. It's enough to break your heart." (beginning of chapter 9)
This is just one example of the humor. Please read the book so you can experience yourself the imagination of the main protagonist.
I have read a bit more than half of this book. I absolutely adore it!!!!!
I keep thinking I should stop and tell my GR friends. I think I simply must copy a bit so you get to see what I am reading. But then I simply can't. I have to keep reading, and I cannot copy the whole book as examples of why I am loving how this author expresses himself. What I love about this book are the lines. They are funny! How can war be funny? Well, what happens is so absurd you do laugh!
Some lines are funny, others conjure a picture of gloom, others the delight of women in the eyes of an adolescent boy and then there is magic too. I don't really care what this author is talking about; it is how he says whatever he wants to say that is so wonderful.