I just finished reading a book entitled, "The Almond Picker" by
Simonetta Agnello Hornby. It was originally written in Italian but has
been translated and is available in English. The novel is set in a
small village called Roccacolomba, Sicily in the year 1963. It spans
the four weeks following the funeral of Mennulara (which means almond
picker), a servant of a wealthy family who started out as a maid and
ended up being the administrator of the family estate. She was a
dirt-poor peasant girl who went into service at the age of 13 to support
her sick mother and sister. I found the story fascinating because it
presented such a realistic, typical picture of a small Sicilian comune.
It could have been the village of my relatives. The mystery of
Mennulara unfolds as the author introduces the various citizens of the
town from the local priest, the doctor, the postmaster, the book seller,
the old men of the Conversation Club, and recounts their thoughts,
observations and conversations with each other. The reader is invited
into the back-biting, the gossip, the old grudges, the prejudices, the
petty squabbles and the judgments that fill the lives of people who know
everyone else's business...people who watch and notice every nuance and
give it meaning. It was interesting to see how feudal society remained
even in 1963, with the peasants separate from the wealthy landowners.
The town remained divided between Roccacolomba Alta and Roccacolomba
Bassa. Every person had his or her own story about Mennulara. Some see
her as a servant who didn't know her place. Others saw her as strong,
loyal and resourceful. How she came to be the power in the family is
what unfolds as you read to the end. While the mystery is not overly
intriguing, the real power of the book is the story of the village...how
it is explored and exposed. At the end, I felt like I had just spent an
extended time in this village, sitting in the piazzas, eavesdropping on
Great book. Different. You feel like you're observing the village's day to day life--family dynamics, mystery.
This was a unique and quite enjoyable read. I really liked it! The whole story - the life of a woman who died on the book's very first page - unraveled in an original fashion. It is very rare to get the entire story from only the perspective of what seemed like the whole town in the cast of characters. It reminded me of Joanne Harris's _Chocolat_ in the way gossip operated in the small town, the vast cast of characters and the mystery surrounding the central character. I think the translation was well done, but my one complaint, though relatively minor, is a similar problem that I have found in novels translated from Russian: the names of the characters tend to have certain recurring first names that is at first a bit bewildering. An additional note regarding the cast of characters might be added to improve any future reprints... The themes of justice and equality were well played throughout the entire novel and I agreed with the ends that many of the characters, who though at time seemed a bit exaggerated, met. This book had a strong cinematic flair to it as well - a flair that I would hope Hollywood sees, since this could make a lovely film.
Catty gossip book without the guilt! Fun book to read because it gives an entire towns' perspective on one person. It makes the reader wonder, âWas Mennulara good or evil?â In the process, we hear the âwholeâ story. It takes a little while to tell the whole story however.
Was a bit hard to follow so I struggled through until the last 50 or 75 pages. Then the story began to reveal itself. Not as bad as I had originally thought.