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(Calvin Becker Trilogy #1)

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  686 ratings  ·  105 reviews
Some kids told lies to be special. Calvin told lies to be normal. The son of a missionary family, he looks forward all year to summer vacation in Portofino--especially since he'll once again have the chance to see his beloved Jennifer. But even in this seductive seaside town in Italy, the Beckers can't really relax. Calvin's father could slip into a Bad Mood and start hurl ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 1st 1999 by Berkley (first published 1992)
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3.77  · 
Rating details
 ·  686 ratings  ·  105 reviews

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Michael Perkins
Oct 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This novel, about the author's fanatical Protestant fundamentalist family, published in 1999, is a companion volume to a memoir the author wrote about that family, "Crazy for God" (link below), published in 2007.

What makes these books different than similar accounts is that the author's parents were part of what has been called "evangelical royalty." Before I go into what that is and specifically who his parents were, I'd like to offer a bit of clarification that I think is important to understa
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
A cute, delightful and endearing coming-of-age autobiography set in the madness of a fundamentalist Christian evangelical family.

The main character is a young boy attempting to be normal in this religiously fanatic family, whose mission, according to his parents, is to "convert the pagans" (which is, according to them, essentially everybody who is not part of the particular, minuscule splinter of one of the many USA Pentecostal "churches" to which they adhere), and whose pre-Enlightenment, 16-th
Sep 04, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People who want to know what goes on behind the scenes of the Religious Right
If you’re still in the fundamentalist and/or evangelical fold and are familiar with the writings of Francis Schaeffer -- or even if you’ve left in the last few years -- the novel Portofino by Schaeffer’s son Frank is bound to be unnerving. Especially if you’ve also read his recent autobiography, Crazy for God.

In Portofino, Schaeffer writes about the son of an American missionary family living in Switzerland, following two of their summer holidays in the Italian town that gives the book its name.
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great story telling The least believable parts are the least fictional

The best way to enjoy this book is if you know almost nothing about the author. Therefore this will have two parts. Why this is a good read and then what you do not need to know.

Potofino is a fun, funny and touching book. It is the first of three books about a teen aged Calvin Becker and his humorous journey from the self-obsessive awareness of childhood into the larger world view of a not yet adult. This is generally termed
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I first read this book 20 years ago, and revisited it in preparation for my holiday to the Ligurian coast, where the story is set. Told from the point of view of Calvin, the son of American Protestant fundamentalist missionaries, the narrative features two summer holidays in Portofino, one in 1962 and one in 1965. In addition to the dysfunction of the family, which can be at times sinister, at times amusing, the beauty of the area and the personality of the locals is brought to life by Schaeffer ...more
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved it. A young boy's amusing attempt to be normal in a religiously fanatic family. Good stuff, especially if you went to one of those kinds of churches, colleges, etc. Should be on the shelves of reasonable church libraries in the "therapy" section.
Nov 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I grew up Fundamentalist so I can relate to this book.
Dec 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
This novel has such a wealth of detail about the inner workings of certain lives that I can't help but believe that the author has drawn heavily on his own experiences.

The reason I rated it so low is primarily because the author's portrait of a dysfunctional fundamentalist Christian family on vacation. He painted them all as outrageously self-righteous liars and hypocrites. The characters are unbalanced and unlikable.

The father is particularly awful. He seldom attempts to control his rage and he
Bob Henry
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
This coming of age story is a real page-turner. I found myself at times laughing out loud, sometimes embarrassed, and often relating to Calvin's family. This is a fun novel with rights of passage and moments of brilliance all wrapped into one vacation destination. Frank Schaeffer does an amazing job of creating the tensions of a pastors family, but keeps it authentic and often very raw. This is not the "Christian Novel" that many are expecting, instead it seems more a memoir of the struggles fac ...more
Jul 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Calvin Becker, the lad featured in Portofino, is one of the most self-absorbed, devious characters I've come across. In Elsa Becker, the author sketches a very strong-willed woman who uses her hyper-spiritual to manipulate others. The best thing about the novels is the wicked sense of humor. However, from this trilogy it is clear that Frank Schaeffer scorns his family but continues to make his living off of their fame. He is still hooked in! He needs to individuate and get on with his own life.
Bert Stanaland
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent!!! This is the honest, innocent account of life in a super religious missionary family, who are out to convert the Catholics in Switzerland and their vacation spot in Italy and yet Mom uses her prayers to correct the Dad and maintain her superiority over him. Dad has a nasty temper and even went so far as to throw all the supper dishes on the floor in one of his tantrums, and yank the toilet tank off the wall. This is humorous, and fun, just charming. I hated to see it end. No profanit ...more
Apr 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Having grown up in a family with fundamentalist leanings, I resonated with Calvin's desire to be "normal" and burst into laughter at several points as Schaeffer painted a picture of how ridiculous we Christians can sometimes seem. At the same time, the book paints a sad picture of broken people who feel the need to hide their brokenness behind religious platitudes. I kept changing my mind about whether I liked the story or not, and the 3 star rating reflects the fact that I still can't make up m ...more
Paul Thomas
Nov 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: character-dev
A cute, somewhat endearing story about a boy in a born again Christian family that takes an annual vacation to Italy. However, the story is pretty flat, and the writing is average. I almost gave up on this 200 page "novel" for lack of development a few times, so I can't imagine why it is part of a trilogy. I certainly won't read the next two.

The story never develops. We know early on that Calvin is a likable 10 year old boy who has a younger and an older sister. We know early on that his parent
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is a stark reminder that Christians must not idolize their leaders.

Once I got over the disappointment of hearing about the dark side of the father character who is obviously based on Francis Schaeffer, I found this book to be very funny, keenly observant, and overall well-written. Being both raised Christian and a Christian still, I could identify with some of the ridiculousness of the “Christianese” language and customs; however, I can’t help but be sad that, if Francis Schaeffer is r
Sarah Rigg
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this directly after reading the author's memoir about growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family famous in those circles, and enjoyed this novel by Schaeffer as well. A funny coming-of-age story.
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, fiction
Although a work of fiction the book carries a strong feel of memoir. The insights into a fairly fundamentalist, calvinistic, evangelicalism are both hilarious and VERY painful to read. I imagine the book wouldn't make a great deal of sense unless one had some insight into this Christian scene.
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a strange book. Evocative, but not sure I’m for the craziness it evokes.
Rachel Hodges
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic. I nearly peed myself laughing several times. Heartwarming and cringe-inducing all at once.
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: popsugar-2018
Enjoyable vacation read about a family of Evangelical Christians who go on an annual vacation to Portofino.
Steve Pifer
Jan 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-and-read
Selected this book, in part, b/c it made me think of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, which I really enjoyed. Picked this book up at a used Book Store in Asheville, NC for a pittance also because its setting was in Italy, 1960's, whose main character is a 12 year old boy in a coming of age type of story. Thats hitting alot of my buttons, so it was a no brainer that I would at least give it a try.
The story is of an American family who are missionaries to the "lost Catholics in Sweeden" and is nar
The book was a little slow going in the beginning. I had heard so much about this author being a real thinker in his non-fiction books, that my expectations were high. But the book seemed overly simplistic -probably because they are told from a young boy's point of view. And that's what I decided, about midway through the book, that I would remember as I read it. I would remind myself this was all from the perspective of a young boy's mind, and not be critical with the boy's perspective because ...more
Aug 27, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: post-college
This is the most disturbing book I've read in years, probably since I read the absolutely sick The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

I did enjoy a few things about the book. I loved Calvin's joy. He really has an amazing joy for living. It's not every kid who can seem to get to know everyone in a town just by visiting them for 10 days a year, especially when he doesn't really speak the language. Some of the coming of age stories were priceless, like the octopus hun
Jan 18, 2014 rated it liked it
This book appears to be either loved or hated by the majority. I read it out of curiosity; and I found myself right in the middle of the extremes of opinion. The descriptions of an Italian seaside resort are realistic and evocative, and some of the narrator's thought-processes humorously logical. Yet there's violence and sordidity, which means I'm unlikely to want to read the sequels.

Evidently at least part autobiographical, I found this novel at times amusing - sometimes against my better judg
Jul 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: missionary
This is an delightful, joyous, laugh out loud funny novel from a very gifted writer. I've never visited the Italian town of Portofino, but while reading this I seemed to vividly experience the sensual beauty of the place. I recommended this book to a friend who had just returned from Portofino who said this novel did capture its beauties in amazing detail.
One can read this as a coming of age story and yet this obviously autobiographical novel is somewhat unnerving for those of us familiar with
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I liked this author's non-fiction and thought I'd try his fiction. This book is hilarious. At least partially autobiographical, it's the story of a boy (10 in the first half; 13 in the second half) named Calvin who goes on vacation every year to Portofino, Italy. His parents are fundamentalist missionaries of a severely Calvinist sect that keeps splitting; his mother is one of those super-pious types who weaponize prayers and try to "witness" to strangers on trains using gimmicky things like the ...more
Nov 27, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
On one level, this was a really good book--funny, told from a kid's point of view, in a lovely setting, etc. It was also convicting--how easy it is to be that self-righteous mom, especially when dealing with a husband who doesn't always do things the way you would (i.e. any husband).

On another level, though, it felt like a betrayal. From what I've read, the novel is loosely autobiographical and based on the author's childhood at L'Abri with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. L'Abri always seemed like
Julie G
Sep 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is not one I would have ever picked up on my own. To be honest, I still find the cover to be a total turnoff. It looks boring and my heart sank a little when I picked it up from the library. I'm so glad I gave it a try though, because it felt like I was reading the story of my life. Frank Schaeffer is the son of theologian Francis Schaeffer, and this novel is considered to be largely autobiographical. Calvin's story is told in such a delightful way, despite the serious challenges he and his ...more
Adam Shields
Short Review: an autobiographical novel of a missionary family's vacations in Italy. This is clearly a fictional version of the Schaeffer family and the start of Frank working out his demons that he later was more explicit about in his two memoirs. One of Frank Schaeffer's strengths as a writer is that he can have characters do and say horrible things without losing compassion for the character themselves. But, I think because I have read his memoirs first, there is an uncomfortable feeling read ...more
Oct 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I read this many years ago, and then re-read it a couple of years ago. Frank Schaeffer is a convert to the Orthodox church, as am I, and I find these books so fascinating because....I don't agree with him politically at all. He has been very harshly critical of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, and has a son in the military. He is very hard on non-Orthodox, really sounding like he has contempt for Protestants. But these books: I can't quite figure out what part of him they're coming from. Like, the ...more
Michael P.
Franky’s thinly disguised autobiographical novel is of two vacations taken with his scary fundamentalist family. There is some invention, and events from elsewhere are imagined and take place during these two trips, but this is unmistakably Fran & Edith Schaeffer and three of their children. I read all of the Schaeffer’s books during a decade of my life and imagined they were wonderful people. This book, and Franky’s autobiography CRAZY FOR GOD, correct this. Probably the greatest attraction ...more
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Frank Schaeffer is a New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books. Frank is a survivor of both polio and an evangelical/fundamentalist childhood, an acclaimed writer who overcame severe dyslexia, a home-schooled and self-taught documentary movie director, a feature film director of four low budget Hollywood features Frank has described as “pretty terrible.” He is also an acclaimed ...more

Other books in the series

Calvin Becker Trilogy (3 books)
  • Zermatt
  • Saving Grandma
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“But our prayers needed to be long so that we might not hide our lamp under a bushel, so that we wouldn’t get to heaven and find that we had been ashamed of the Lord and that because of this He would say we had denied Him before men so He would deny us before the Father.” 0 likes
“When Bible-believing fundamentalist Reformed Protestants go on vacation in Roman Catholic Italy, surrounded by unbelievers, they must witness to the truth.” 0 likes
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