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The House of Scorta [Hardcover]

Laurent Gaude , Stephen Sartarelli , Sophie Hawkes
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

23 Jan 2006
An epic tale of love, lies, and a family’s disgrace in the unforgiving south of Italy.

After receiving stunning critical acclaim and France’s most prestigious literary award, the Goncourt Prize, Laurent Gaudé’s The House of Scorta (published in France as Le Soleil des Scorta) has sold more than 400,000 copies. Spanning five generations in a small village in southern Italy, Gaudé’s novel is laced with infamous crimes, forsaken loves, and lifelong secrets.

The saga of the Scortas opens in 1870 with Rocco Scorta Mascalzone, the bastard product of a rape and a notorious scoundrel whose legacy the family is forced to confront. While their lineage seems doomed to struggle, the Scortas are blessed with an imposing pride and a relentless faith in their own power. Besides a little tobacco shop they manage to open with their years of savings, their wealth all but lies in their memories and their collective belief in the pursuit of happiness.

Gaudé’s omniscient, linear narrative is interwoven with the recollections of the old Carmela as she delivers her last confession to the family priest, exposing the family’s deep-buried secret.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 289 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing (23 Jan 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596921595
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596921597
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 14.8 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,612,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
My partner and I have just come back from Apuglia, where this book is based on, and it felt as if I was re-living my holiday, but back in the 1870. The village of Peschici is right in the centre of where everything happens, including the famous "Trabucco" where the Scorta family had a memorable feast on. This book played on heart strings, made me feel happy and sympathetic at the same time.
It's very well written (and well translated in English) and I particularly love the fact that some words and phrases have been left in Italian. All in all, I highly recommend it, and I also recommend visiting Peschici village as well. Go and re-live the 1870 - it's brilliant.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The House of Scorta 25 Jan 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A gripping story, providing the setting for a moving exploration of the impact of modernity on traditional rural village life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a major literary achievement 1 Feb 2006
By Gail Cooke TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Laurent Gaude's prose is rhythmic, frequently poetic. At the same time it is compact, epigrammatic. He's an author who is extremely careful with words, they're well considered, and always on-point perfect to describe a scene or person. The very lack of verbosity renders his writing all the more compelling. Gaude has twice won the Concourt Prize, and once you find yourself in the spell of this story, you'll think, "Deservedly so."
"The House of Scorta" spans five generations of a Southern Italian family that labored, cheated, loved, stole, and survived. The story open in 1875 with the return of Luciano Mascalzone to the sleepy village of Montepuccio. He has spent the last 15 years in prison, years in which he dreamed of Filomena Biscotti. Now, he has come to "make her his own." He knows that he will be killed for this, the townspeople will stone him. Yet he goes on until he reaches the door of the Biscotti home.
Luciano's dreams of possessing Filomena seem to come true, but later as he lay dying in the street he learns that the woman who welcomed him was not Filomena but her younger sister. His visit resulted in the birth of a son, Rocco, and shortly thereafter the mother's death. Rocco is despised by the villagers, they want to put him to death. A kindly priest saves him by giving the boy to a fisherman and his wife. Upon reaching manhood he takes their name to become Rocco Scorta Mascalzone. He is a beast, attacking peasants in the fields, murdering burghers on the road, never forgetting that those in his home village would have killed him.
He does not return to Montepuccio until he is a wealthy man, "When his reputation had been made and he ruled the whole region like a lord over his people.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Laurent Gaude's "House Of Scorta," winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt Award in 2004 and originally published in French as "Le Soleil des Scorta," is an absorbing generational tale, as well as the story of a small village that changes little over the course of a hundred years. I have traveled throughout Sicily and Southern Italy - even to Corsica - and the tiny town of Montepuccio, the timeless setting for this novel, is so vividly portrayed, that reading about the place and its inhabitants brings back sights, sounds, even the heat and smells of lemons, olive oil, wildflowers, sage and the sea. I mention this first, because the author's extraordinary descriptions, luminous paintings with words, add so much texture and richness to the narrative, but tend to be overshadowed by the drama - the love, lust, crimes, sacrifices, idiosyncrasies and many secrets of the characters of "The House Of Scorta."
Beginning with a most serendipitous error in 1870, the House of Scrota was founded. A donkey and rider, male, enter the village during the scorching heat of summer. Tiny Montepuccio, "a small, white town, with houses huddled together on a high promontory overlooking the calm of the sea," is silent in the burning sun - it's inhabitants resting after their midday meals.
The man, Luciano Mascalzone, a bandit who makes his living on poaching, plundering and even highway robbery, is bent on revenge, muttering to himself, "If a single one of them tries to prevent me from passing, I'll crush him with my fist." As he passes through the town, he notices that nothing has changed since he was last there. "Same lousy streets. Same filthy houses." He dismounts in front of the Biscotti home and knocks at the door. A woman, about 40 years-old answers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "'The last shall be first.' Let this be true in Montepuccio at least. Generation after generation." 1 Feb 2006
By Jana L. Perskie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Laurent Gaude's "House Of Scorta," winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt Award in 2004 and originally published in French as "Le Soleil des Scorta," is an absorbing generational tale, as well as the story of a small village that changes little over the course of a hundred years. I have traveled throughout Sicily and Southern Italy - even to Corsica - and the tiny town of Montepuccio, the timeless setting for this novel, is so vividly portrayed, that reading about the place and its inhabitants brings back sights, sounds, even the heat and smells of lemons, olive oil, wildflowers, sage and the sea. I mention this first, because the author's extraordinary descriptions, luminous paintings with words, add so much texture and richness to the narrative, but tend to be overshadowed by the drama - the love, lust, crimes, sacrifices, idiosyncrasies and many secrets of the characters of "The House Of Scorta."

Beginning with a most serendipitous error in 1870, the House of Scorta was founded. A donkey and rider, male, enter the village during the scorching heat of summer. Tiny Montepuccio, "a small, white town, with houses huddled together on a high promontory overlooking the calm of the sea," is silent in the burning sun - it's inhabitants resting after their midday meals.

The man, Luciano Mascalzone, a bandit who makes his living on poaching, plundering and even highway robbery, is bent on revenge, muttering to himself, "If a single one of them tries to prevent me from passing, I'll crush him with my fist." As he passes through the town, he notices that nothing has changed since he was last there. "Same lousy streets. Same filthy houses." He dismounts in front of the Biscotti home and knocks at the door. A woman, about 40 years-old answers. He thinks she is more beautiful than when he last saw her, 15 years before. She is his obsession. He is determined to rape her if she resists. She does not resist. She smiles. In his passion, he whispers "Filomena." He forgets all about vengeance in the sweetness of the moment.

Although it didn't change the pleasure of their first and only union, the woman Luciano made love to - and he did make love to her - was not Filomena, but her sister, Immacolata. She had thought of Mascalzone from the time he unsuccessfully courted her sister, during the fifteen years he spent in jail, long after Filomena died. Immacolata's most memorable moment of happiness became the brief period when she and Luciano were together and she was, "for once in her life, a man's woman." Luciano paid for fulfilling his fantasy - even if it was with the wrong woman - with his life. The villagers stoned him to death. Of this union between Mascalzone and the forty year-old virgin, a son was born.

Rocco Scorta Mascalzone, the bastard son, is the village outcast. Immacolata, the only potential source of love for the small boy, died when he was born. A compassionate priest, Don Giorgio, takes the baby to San Giacondo, a neighboring village, to be raised by a fisherman and his wife. Rocco returns to the town of his birth as a wealthy man. "While his father had been a good-for-nothing scoundrel...Rocco was a genuine brigand." His dreadful exploits are woefully detailed in the novel. Upon his return to Montepuccio, he marries a deaf-mute. She bears him three children: Domenico, Giuseppe, and Carmela. They too are ostracized by all Montepuccians, except for Don Giorgio, as had been their grandfather and father before them. Before his death, Rocco makes a terrible bequest, giving the townspeople a gift they cannot refuse and making his children paupers. He condemns Domenico, Giuseppe, and Carmela to life without rest. He only asks that all Scorta Mascalzones be buried like princes.

"The House of Scorta" then, is the story of the Scorta Mascalzone family from 1870 to the present - their vows, struggles and secrets. And let me tell you, this family's motto could be, "If something comes easy, it is not worth it." Everything must be done the hard way for the descendants of Luciano Mascalzone. And, in truth, theirs is a life without rest, befitting Rocco's curse. But, in truth, their hardships make a most fascinating and original story. And perhaps, at the conclusion, you might decide that they were not cursed at all. Highly recommended reading!
JANA
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MAJOR LITERARY ACHIEVEMENT 1 Feb 2006
By Gail Cooke - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Laurent Gaude's prose is rhythmic, frequently poetic. At the same time it is compact, epigrammatic. He's an author who is extremely careful with words, they're well considered, and always on-point perfect to describe a scene or person. The very lack of verbosity renders his writing all the more compelling. Gaude has twice won the Concourt Prize, and once you find yourself in the spell of this story, you'll think, "Deservedly so."

"The House of Scorta" spans five generations of a Southern Italian family that labored, cheated, loved, stole, and survived. The story open in 1875 with the return of Luciano Mascalzone to the sleepy village of Montepuccio. He has spent the last 15 years in prison, years in which he dreamed of Filomena Biscotti. Now, he has come to "make her his own." He knows that he will be killed for this, the townspeople will stone him. Yet he goes on until he reaches the door of the Biscotti home.

Luciano's dreams of possessing Filomena seem to come true, but later as he lay dying in the street he learns that the woman who welcomed him was not Filomena but her younger sister. His visit resulted in the birth of a son, Rocco, and shortly thereafter the mother's death. Rocco is despised by the villagers, they want to put him to death. A kindly priest saves him by giving the boy to a fisherman and his wife. Upon reaching manhood he takes their name to become Rocco Scorta Mascalzone. He is a beast, attacking peasants in the fields, murdering burghers on the road, never forgetting that those in his home village would have killed him.

He does not return to Montepuccio until he is a wealthy man, "When his reputation had been made and he ruled the whole region like a lord over his people." Soon thereafter he marries a deaf mute who gives him three children, Domenico, Giuseppe, and Carmela. The children are ostracized by the other youngsters in the village save for Raffaele who becomes like a brother to them.

In an amazing gesture Rocco gives all of his money, including the farm on which they live to the church. Thus, his children are impoverished. "They understood that a savage will had condemned them to poverty, and that this will was their father's." The townspeople largely ignored the Scortas. "They were three hungry souls, a brigand's spawn."

How they managed to survive is related in the voice of Carmela as the narrative alternates between past and present, carrying readers along in prose so richly descriptive that one can feel the heat of the sun and taste the golden goodness of olive oil.

"The House of Scorta" stands alone, remarkable for its radiant prose and sensitive yet unsentimental portraits of men and women seeking a place in the world.

Highly recommended.

- Gail Cooke
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Mankind, under the sun of Montepuccio, was, like the olives, eternal." 24 Jan 2006
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In the village of Montepuccio in 1875, a child is born of the deflowering of a forty-year old virgin. Cast out from the Italian village after his birth, Rocco Scorta Mascalzone holds only bitterness for Montepuccio, his mother's village. Rocco is "violent and insatiable", the only remaining member of the Scorta clan, who will come to be known for his thievery and repression of helpless travelers, building his family's fortune on the backs of the innocent who suffer the misfortune of crossing his path. His three children, Domenico, Giuseppe and Carmella are made paupers by their father's dictate. Consigning his fortune to the church after his death, the children are propelled into poverty, the villagers made rich by Rocco's posthumous gift, repaying the debt of his ill-gotten gains. The only caveat to his death bed bequest is that any Scorta's be buried like princes.

After their father's death, the children leave the country for New York, their experience on Ellis Island never to be forgotten. Returning to Montepuccio, they find their mother has died; contrary to Rocco's contract with the priest, she has been buried in a pauper's grave. The homecoming is marred by this news, but the grown children are delighted to be reunited with their childhood friend, Raffaele, whom they embrace as one of the family. The four confront the new priest, who refuses to honor the agreement of his predecessor. Outraged, the Scorta's dig up their mother's remains that night; at least she may at least rest in a grave dug by her sons. Surprisingly the town backs the Scorta's instead of Don Carlos Bozzini: "The Scorta's are good-for-nothings, but they belong to us!" Throwing their energy into the survival and financial success of their line, all their efforts share that goal. The three remaining Scorta's, and Raffaele, marry, procreate children of their own and pass along family secrets, instilling pride in each new child that is born to them.

A family line begun in infamy, the Scorta's, although secretive, have the most noble of motives, not adverse to a little black market smuggling. They are insular and protective of one another, understanding since childhood that this small village is capable of great cruelty, old superstitions and hot-headed judgments ingrained in daily life for centuries. Montepuccio is their home, their destiny. The House of Scorta is a piece of history, such villages no longer viable in a modern world, young people gone to the cities, the old waiting to die, the cemetery more familiar as loved ones join their ancestors. In a culture rapidly growing extinct, this intimate portrait reveals the passions, obsessions and immense appetite for life in a people who carve a living out of the land, feast on the bounty of the sea and their olive groves and give the evil eye to their enemies. In the southern Italian tradition, the Scorta's relish family, work and the meals they share, each generation adding to the family folklore. Luan Gaines/2006.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Has the Feel of a Classic 28 Feb 2010
By James W. Fonseca - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Blood is thicker than water, and in southern Italy in the late 1900's, family blood in the dirt-poor coastal town of Montepuccio was so thick you could walk on it. Carmela, with her three brothers, runs the family business of cigarette smuggling. Their mother, whom they called "the Mute," as did everyone else, died when they were very young. Carmela, when very old, tells most of the story in retrospect to the village priest so he can relate it to her newly-born granddaughter. "I was a sister my whole life long...when people hear of my death no one will say `Manuzio's widow died; they'll say the Scortas' sister died.' "The only happiness I've ever known was when I was surrounded by my brothers." The novel, translated from the French, was a winner of France's Goncourt Prize. The language, the irony, and the tricks of language in this book are beautiful. "Smoke, don Salvatore, it will do us both good." "You can hardly hear what I'm saying. Don't let it bother you. I prefer it this way." "When I asked for a word with you... you gave a start ... as if a dog had started speaking." Read this book.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vivid Account of Southern Italian Life 31 Aug 2006
By Kathy from Dreamofitaly.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
There's nothing like falling in love with a book and this summer I fell in love with "The House of Scorta." I devoured it over a long hot weekend, which seemed fitting given the novel's setting in the dry, hot region of Puglia in the southeast of Italy as described in the first paragraph of the book:

"The heat of the sun seemed to split the earth open. Not a breath of wind rustled the olive trees. Nothing moved. The scent of the hills had vanished. The rocks crackled with heat. August weighed down on the Gargano massif with the self-assurance of an overlord. It was impossible to believe that rain had ever fallen on these lands, that water had once irrigated the fields and quenched the olive groves. Impossible to believe that any animal or plant could have ever found sustenance under this arid sky. It was two o'clock in the afternoon and the earth was condemned to burn."

Opening in 1870, The House of Scorta chronicles five generations of the rough Mascalzone family, doomed to live under the weight of a scandulous reputation in the town that bred them yet struggle to accept them. Laurent Gaude, the book's French author whose wife is of Italian descent, paints an incredibly detailed picture of the complex social rules and interactions in southern Italian culture. Gaude captures the dark shadows, age-old rhythms and brutal realities of southern Italian life in a way I have rarely experienced in prose, except maybe for the classic "Christ Stopped at Eboli."

Throughout the twists and turns of the narrative, the themes of family, community, belonging, sacrifice, judgment and redemption are weaved together. Readers will gain an appreciation of the history of Italy, which was just a new country as the novel opens, and the prejudice that has long plagued the South.

Originally published in French as La Soleil des Scorta, the book has won France's highest literary prize and sold over 400,000 copies in that country. While it is a shame the novel hasn't sold better in the United States -- consider yourself in on a wonderful secret.
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