Stories set in southern Italy always interest me because this is where my family had originated from. Although I was born and raised in America there are often the little things that resonate because they remind me of my grandparents and the little cultural things here and there they held on to and subsequently passed along to us. It's a great thing not to be completely disconnected from your roots and reading this book brought to mind some of the little things I remember from my own childhood, things that still resonate until this day.
"The Homecoming Party" by Italian novelist Carmine Abate is a wonderful read. It's basically a coming of age story, set in the Italian village of Hora, in the region of Calabria, where they still speak an ancient form of Albanian calledArberesh. The story centers around a father and his son, Marco, sitting around a bonfire on Christmas Eve in celebration of the Christ child. Marco is happy that his father had finally returned to the village after being away for months on end working in the coal mines in Northern France, since there was no work for anyone in the region in which they lived. His father is home now, seemingly for good, and he tells Marco about his life in France. Alternately, the narrative switches to the point of view of Marco, who tells of his life, as well as his family's, while his father is away. It is an idyllic childhood although there is this sense of longing and loss. Marco really misses his father and through flashbacks he tells of the good times he had with him when he actually was around. There is also a strange man in the village, who he and his father meet one day while the boy's dog gets injured while hunting wild boar. Marco comes to learn that this man is having an affair with his older sister, Elisa, who is looking to leave the little village herself in search of greener pastures. This man will eventually have an enormous impact on all their lives. I don't want to give away what happens.
The book is also a wonderful depiction of a childhood in Calabria. The descriptions of the region and the countryside are nothing short of poetic. The characters are all very well developed, including the boy's dog, Spertina, who is made to live and breathe in its own rite, not just a narrative "prop" for the boy. (You will be sympathetic to the dog as a character unto itself.)
This is only the second novel of Abate's that's been published in English. I look forward to reading more from this author.