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5.0 out of 5 stars a major literary achievement, 1 Feb. 2006
Gail Cooke (TX, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The House of Scorta (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
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5.0 out of 5 stars 4 Generations of interest and "what's going to happen next", 25 Nov. 2013
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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
R. C. Lindley (Keighley, Yorkshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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A gripping story, providing the setting for a moving exploration of the impact of modernity on traditional rural village life.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The last shall be first. Let this be true in Montepuccio.", 1 Feb. 2006
This review is from: The House of Scorta (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. 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!
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The House of Scorta
The House of Scorta by Laurent Gaude (Hardcover - 23 Jan. 2006)
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