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During a summer holiday on an island off Naples in the 1950s, a sixteen-year-old boy, feeling guilty about Italy's recent wartime past, is chagrined to find his family reluctant to answer his questions. Go read books, they tell him; it's all there, but leave us alone. A local fisherman who befriends him is drawn into laconic replies that fill the gaps in...
During a summer holiday on an island off Naples in the 1950s, a sixteen-year-old boy, feeling guilty about Italy's recent wartime past, is chagrined to find his family reluctant to answer his questions. Go read books, they tell him; it's all there, but leave us alone. A local fisherman who befriends him is drawn into laconic replies that fill the gaps in the boy's awareness of both Italian and German responsibility.As the holiday progresses, the boy becomes obsessed with a mysterious, slightly older girl who is also vacationing on the island, and from her he learns what it meant to be a Jew under German domination. Through her story, the boy is consumed with the emotional experience of belonging to another time, another people, another place. Now, a few years after the war's end, Germans have once again invaded the Bay of Naples, but this time as well-heeled tourists. The boy's newfound resentment bursts into a flame of retribution in a remarkable climax that leaves him, and the reader, with the understanding that the past can never be forgotten, nor can it be corrected.In beautifully written prose, this short, unsentimental novel evokes the sensibility of adolescence, the discovery of love, and questions of guilt and survival.She pulled so hard I couldn't resist without hurting her. I went to the record player and put on a slow song. She took me by the hand, placing my other one behind her back, and led me into the music. The others took advantage of the record to do the same. "Why did you say I'm an old man?" I asked her, surprised by the deep timbre that issued from my throat."You've suddenly become an old man in a marvelous way. You are someone who has come from faraway, like me, someone who has disembarked in a new land, has gray hair, and wonders how he is going to get along."The bite of the moray had left a pattern of holes: a pale letter on dark skin. Her hand was right on that spot and it was the most intimate gesture I had ever experienced with a woman. She was touching the surface of a pain, in a clasp as capable of reviving it as assuaging it. I'm here, her hand said, holding the wound for the duration of the song. I'll go with you far away and hold your pain in my hand.
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