From the back cover -
Against a backdrop of Immigration, Prohibition, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the new millennium, the Verbicaro family make their way from Southern Italy to San Francisco to the Yucatan, finding ways to reinvent themselves as each of them brushes up against some aspect of the divine, or the profane. The family matriarch, Rosari, is a little girl whose family flees Italy because her prodigality is exploited by illiterate kidnappers. When she and her father reach San Francisco, she meets the man she’ll marry, a handsome, fiercely strong peasant named Giuseppe Verbicaro. Rosari and Giuseppe’s oldest son, Narciso, a handsome and dim-witted dandy, barely evades disaster by his simple-minded innocence and luck. His passionate brother Ludovico, a talented third-baseman in the old San Francisco minor leagues, falls prey to the illicit dreams of a wise guy from the Gambino family. Their youngest brother, Joe, a brilliant child and shrewd businessman, is ashamed of his ethnicity and, in particular, his father, in part because Giuseppe, wandering North Beach, believes that God directs him to marry a teenage, pregnant Mexican prostitute named Maria. Further senility, faith, or vermouth convinces the old man that Maria’s child, Jesus, is the product of an immaculate conception. The event is both a family disgrace and a bizarre blessing. The child’s life and death have a profound effect on Giuseppe’s progeny, particularly Joe s children: Penelope, who flees the country following involvement in deadly anti-Vietnam War activities, and her brothers Paulie and Angelo, who are inspired by the young Jesus to embark upon a quest of several thousand miles to heal old wounds and recover the family’s lost, but most-prized spiritual treasures.
My thoughts -
The Islands of Divine Musicis a fabulous novel, one that I really, really loved and would highly recommend. Each chapter is focused on a different family member, but most family members show up in most chapters, so you get to know all of these characters very well - which is somewhat surprising for such a short novel. The novel is most closely characterized as a family saga, but it is not the typical 500+ page clunkster that most family sagas tend to be – it’s much more conscice, running at about 250 pages. Each chapter reads like a short story, and to be honest, I think that most of them could actually stand up on their own as short stories independent from one another… but it is in tying them all together in such a seamless way that makes Addiego such a great storyteller and novelist. Another thing that I loved about this book was the writing – it is written in an absolutely beautiful style, yet at the same time very simply written and easy to follow. I can’t really explain that, other than to say that he covered a LOT of ground (like 100 years) in a somewhat short book, while still making the reader feel like a complete story was being told. Last, I really enjoyed the characters in this book. While none of them was super fleshed-out, I still felt like I truly got to know and love each and every one. They were complex characters and not at all one-dimensional, which is not easy to do with so many of them and not a lot of pages to work with.
Overall, highly recommended read. Definitely pick this one up!