Gioia Timpanelli

What Makes a Child Lucky

 

A Novel

A luminous story of danger and survival.

This book is a visionary novel of the Path. In a timeless moment in rural Sicily, a boy experiences hunger, loss, and betrayal. No child should have to know evil so intimately, and yet once he does, what will save him?

His salvation lies in the cycles of the seasons, the sturdy earth and its gifts of lentils and wild asparagus in a time of starvation, the animal sense that enables one to anticipate the whims and impulses of others, and, most important, familiarity with the Ancient Grandmother, who knows the entire play of good and evil. If he can trust her—the gang's cook, a fierce woman of great practical wisdom and humanity—he will escape the grip of perpetual violence. Or so we learn from the beguiling narrator of this story.

Uniting the most ancient forms of storytelling with a modern sensibility, Gioia Timpanelli's work is a national treasure—a joy to read, clear and resonant and satisfying.

 


 

Sometimes the Soul: Two Novellas of Sicily

 

 

"Si cunta e si recunta"--"It is told and retold," begin the old Sicilian folktales.

Both of Timpanelli's stories take place in Sicily and weave Sicilian fairy tales into the fabric of her modern-day sensibility. In "A Knot of Tears" the heroine, Costanza, has locked herself away from the world in an old villa in Palermo to give herself time to pick up the pieces of a life that has been shattered. Her beauty and her mystery touch the hearts of two very different men who glimpse her through an open window: a young man of wealth and his worldly lawyer. They make a bet as to who will speak to Costanza first. The youth consults an actress who promises to arrange a meeting; the lawyer bribes a sailor to insinuate himself into the house to find out more about the lady--a feat the sailor achieves by allowing his parrot, Nello, to fly through an open window.

"Si cunta e si recunta" the parrot repeats time and again. When the sailor comes to reclaim him, he is invited into the house where he satisfies both the parrot's and the lady's desire for stories. As the sailor tells three tales of a young princess with the magical power to heal, Costanza gradually begins to heal as well: "In a year of Good Fridays, a small resurrection of spirit was stirring. Well, as usual, the old tales had uncanny truths in them, and Costanza had often seen this princess rescuer in the everyday world, not a worldly princess, but one of the heart."

In "Rusina, Not Quite in Love," Timpanelli takes a more straightforward approach, retelling Beauty and the Beast, but even here the author's interest is less in the old fairy tale itself than in the purpose of storytelling: "It is true," said the Uncle. "These old stories are like the parables, they tell us what we know but have strangely forgotten, until we hear it again and we say, 'Oh! Yes. Of course."

Like one character's tale of an old woman who went out without her shawl, Timpanelli's stories are "simple but not so simple"; in telling them, she is advocating fiction's power to shape and transform our lives. As with all the best old stories, the two novellas in Sometimes the Soul are entertaining, charmingly told, and leave you with something to think about when they're done. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.