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How Fires End

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  427 ratings  ·  84 reviews
Winner of the Honorable Mention in Fiction for the 2020 Connecticut Book Awards

A dark secret born out of World War II lies at the heart of a Sicilian American family in this emotional and sweeping saga of guilt, revenge, and, ultimately, redemption.

After soldiers vacate the Sicilian hillside town of Melilli in the summer of 1943, the locals celebrate, giving thanks to thei
Paperback, 400 pages
Published October 15th 2019 by Little A
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Average rating 4.19  · 
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 ·  427 ratings  ·  84 reviews

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Hallie Szott

Marco Rafalà’s How Fires End is a transporting story. With exquisite language and storytelling, he brings to life an experience deeply rooted in Sicilian culture and World War II. It unfolds in reverse over the course of three generations and conveys grief, loss, revenge, guilt, secrets, and more.

I struggled to get into this book mostly, I think, because based on the blurb, I expected the setting of How Fires End to be World War II-era Sicily primarily. However, the first half focuses on Davi
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What happens when faith blinds us to our own humanity? How Fires End is part war story and aftermath, part mythology, a lamentation shot-through with melancholy and pathos. Rafalà writes of the fathers and sons and daughters of Mellili, Sicily with such care and tenderness that to read it was like listening to the breathing out and collapse of an accordion—history folding over onto itself, sighing out a mournful story on notes of stone and stars. We yearn with David, grieve with Salvatore, shoul ...more
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-literary
I ended up with an ARC of this book, somewhat at random, not through a giveaway. Meaning I am under no obligation to write a review. I'm just writing a review because I really enjoyed it!

How Fires End is about how a single tragedy can haunt multiple generations of a family, leaving its mark across two continents and many lives. If there's a lesson (and I'm not sure I'd call it a lesson in the "morality tale" kind of sense) it's that keeping the secrets of the past from loved ones—even when done
William Dameron
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This savory and captivating novel is a stunning debut. I was engrossed in this story about a rivalry between two families that was sparked during World War II in the small Sicilian town of Melilli. The author uses all of the senses in his descriptions. The story ingeniously begins with the youngest generation of the Italian/American clans in Middletown, CT with the smoldering anger of generations carried upon their shoulders. He then delves into the past, revealing the layers of this story like ...more
Penny (Literary Hoarders)
Another terrific debut! The storytelling and writing inside were like reading butter. I felt the first two sections - narrated by David, the son and Salvatore, the father - to be the strongest. There is another section that comes from Salvatore;s friend, Vincenzo's perspective but I felt this part petered out for me. Nella, the sister of Salvatore, ends the book with her start to righting the wrongs of the past in her family for the next generation.

Completely recommend - this is a wonderful fam
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This beautifully written novel is about secrets and how they can affect a family through the generations. It's told in three parts - David, the son; Salvatore, the father and Vincenzo, a friend and father figure who helped bring Salvatore and his sister Nella from Sicily to America at the end of WWII. Even though they are a loving family they all struggle with the secrets that they keep from David.

It's very interesting the way that the author told this story -- first we see the outcome of keepin
Sammy Williams
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-books
The characters, history, and generational family drama made this a great read. There was an aspect of one character's motivations that I found a little unbelievable, but it didn't detract from the overall story.
Major perk of this book is learning the Italian for "evil eye".
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Marco Rafalà paints a masterpiece with words.

“A dark secret born out of World War II lies at the heart of a Sicilian American family in this emotional and sweeping saga of guilt, revenge, and, ultimately, redemption.”

HOW FIRES END is the debut novel of this stunningly talented author. I had to keep reminding myself over and over that is a debut novel. The writing is superb, and I was quickly drawn into the story of this family.

Written from the perspectives of Salvatore, his sister Nella, his son
Aug 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This compelling and beautifully-written book is told in three sections, each presenting a slice of history as seen through the eyes of three Sicilian-American men whose stories tragically intersect. The first part is a coming-of-age story set in the 1980s and centering David, a young man trying to grapple with a local bully who seems to hold a personal grudge against David’s family. The second part switches to Sicily, where we meet David’s father, Salvatore, growing up in Sicily amid war and tra ...more
Charlotte Lynn
Oct 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As I started this book I was thinking that I was going to be reading about a Sicilian-family living during WWII, what I got was something so much better. I got a story of a young boy trying to find his way in the world with a father that did not grow up in America. I got the story of a father that had lost so much that all he wanted was to keep his son safe. The secrets that the father was keeping are the reason that they left their home country to come to America and the reason that he fears he ...more
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book was an emotional journey I won’t soon forget. In some ways it was a page-turner because I always wanted to know what happened next. In other ways the complexity of the characters and the beauty of the writing made me want to linger over and reread many passages.

I liked each of the voices of the four main characters who narrated a section of the book: Nella, who begins and ends the book; David, a teenager coming of age in Middletown Connecticut during the 1980s; Salvatore, David
Lee Goldberg
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully sad debut novel that had me underlining sentences because they were just that good. It’s told in three separate sections ranging from present time to WW2 in the town of Mililli, Sicily. Focusing on the power of how choices in our lives can have a disastrous ripple effect for generations to come. The sounds and smells of the past become alive on the pages, especially in the second section that takes place in the past. But it is the characters that stay with you. Truly a great debut ...more
Annie McDonnell
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Marco Rafalà’s “How Fires End” is a Triumph! It is a powerful ache that you read until you find relief.
Rafalà puts his emotion on the pages; poignant moments shared between the characters and across seas and continents. He literally leaves your heart to cry or pound! All wrapped up in the hope I trust he wants us to believe in.
“How Fires End” is more than a story, it is an absolute truth being shared after generations of secrets.
Do not miss this debut novel, for I am sure this is the first of
Kaye Stephens
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Powerful! Well written. Holds your interest right to the end. Rafala’s detail of the towns and events is authentic.
Of the compelling main characters, Nella was the one that stood out. The author wove her story throughout the novel, showing her as a strong, young girl and then growing into a confident, supportive woman of intelligence, kindness and bravery. In the book Nella reveals how secrets impact relationships.
I would definitely recommend this book!!
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An epic and deeply empathetic book that uses three narrator/protagonists to tell a fractured narrative family story that originates in Sicily in World War II and unwinds in the Sicilian community of Middletown, Connecticut. Fate, free will, vengeance and curiosity power a story of how rash actions lead to further rash actions until truth puts out a destructive and all-consuming “fire” at long last.
Kristin Ungerecht
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was so compelling and beautifully written.
Cathi Stevenson
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
The characters in this story will remain with me for a very long time. Heartbreaking tale that I could not put down, even when I didn't want to read any more. Wonderful writing that kept me thoughtfully glued to each page. ...more
Amy’s Booket List
As I read How Fires End, I couldn't help but think of the quote I learned in high school by George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This book is a beautiful and tragic example of the truth of this statement.

Maybe if David had known and understood the history of his family, through all of the generations, his story might have turned out much differently. Nevertheless, the curse of the Vassallo family appeared unavoidable, at least so long as no one talke
Russell Ricard
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Marco Rafala’s How Fires End is an extraordinary debut novel. Poetic, visceral, and very moving prose. A beautiful tribute to the author’s Sicilian Italian heritage. A sweeping, historical saga of family, fathers and sons, love, redemption, grief, and a coming-of-age narrative, as well. Looking forward to what's ahead from this author. ...more
James Charlesworth
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Some called Sicily an island on a sea of light. I thought of it as a fire extinguished, cooled, and hardened into stone..."

This bold and gorgeous "raised fist of a novel" begins in 1980s Middletown, CT, with the story of a teenage boy named David and his immigrant father, Salvatore. When unexplained secrets from the past come between them, the narrative circles back to WWII-era Sicily, where Salvatore was born and suffered terribly during the allied invasion. Lastly, the story is taken up by Vi
Victoria Colotta
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My Highly Caffeinated Thought: A multigenerational look at one family and how their lives were intersected with pain, grief, love, and the hope for redemption.

HOW FIRES END is a beautifully crafted story with equal parts heart and anger. Rafalà takes the main four characters within this story and breathes life into them as we are gifted with their personal histories and perspectives.

I believe that what made this story for me was the writing. There was grit to the way the author told his tale, b
Ariela Weinberger
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
How Fire's End is more than just another novel about the Italian immigrant experience. It's an exciting story of love, friendship, and how one's family history shapes who we become. I could not put it down.

When I first started the book, I wasn't sure I would connect to the characters, as I did not know much about the Sicilian American experience. But boy was I wrong. The author, Marco Rafalà, does an incredible job of bringing the reader into the story through his use of language (both English
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh man. This story is going to haunt me for a long, long time.

This book is simply incredible. Rafala describes the world of these characters with prose so gorgeous I kept re-reading paragraphs again and again. I'm amazed by how well the story seamlessly moves between decades and continents, revealing a family's tragic history piece by piece.

The sights and sounds of these places, and the love and tragedy of this family, feel so jarringly real it takes a long time to get your head back to real l
Alisia Ceddia
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I unequivocally recommend "How Fires End".
This was an immersive read that brings you from WWII Sicily, to 1980's Connecticut, and beyond.
Using the lenses of three main characters (you can argue four), the story weaves through Salvatore's heartbreaking journey to make sense of the seething hatred and profound love that live deep in his marrow.
The souls of each narrator are splayed out with each page. You enter into, and live their deepest secrets, biggest regrets, and unassailable loves - alwa
Allyson Manis
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Moves the Reader in Ways Only an Italian Could (Think Levi & Calvino)

This novel moved me to tears and I could not put it down. I voraciously read from all genres, but by no means am I a connoisseur of any. However, when I recognize true art I feel it and this is just painstakingly beautiful. To bear witness to the story from so many character perspectives was like tasting each note of a finely aged wine. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Oct 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

There are some books - the best books - that when I am done reading them they still linger in my head. I want them to go on forever, I feel the need to know more. This is one of those books. It could have been twice as long and I still would want more.
Joy  Cagil
In my humble opinion, this book deserves to be among the great family sagas of all time and definitely a winner of several solid awards. Since I said that, I promise you I have never met, conversed with, or was in touch in any way with this author before I read this novel through Amazon’s Prime Reading. My opinions stand solely on the merits of the book. I am going to try write this review without giving much away from its plot because I believe this is a book that has to be read, and I am so ve ...more
Daydre Phillips
Oct 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A moving and beautifully written book! The story and characters pulled me in. I became very emotionally engaged quite quickly and remained that way until the end and after.
Rafala's gripping writing reveals what it was really like for families and children during World War 2 and the secrets and scars that can continue through and affect generations.
His powerful writing style created vivid images in my mind -- I could see the world on the page come to life. In this book, there is sadness, pain, c
Christopher Phillips
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A magnificent read. With such depth and meaning, I was enthralled for several days as I read each section and then contemplated it in light of my own family experiences. There is tremendous insight into all of our lives in How Fires End.

The character development is exquisite. I was drawn into their lives in war-torn Sicily and on into post-war America. The experiences of the characters opened my eyes to the beliefs and ethics of people battered by war and their struggle to build new lives outsi
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
A story full of dark secrets, strongly held religious beliefs, and even stronger grudges. At times, the story was a bit startling, and full of twists that I didn't see coming, yet it was not a mystery. Rather, it was a fascinating look at Sicilian families and how the sin of the father punishes his family. An excellent first novel from Marco Rafalà. I look forward to his future novels, because this one was superb!

4.5/5 stars.
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Marco Rafalà is a first-generation Sicilian American novelist, musician, and writer for award-winning tabletop role-playing games. He earned his MFA in Fiction from The New School and is a cocurator of the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series in New York City. Born in Middletown, Connecticut, he now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review and ...more

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