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4.8 out of 5 stars
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4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 15 August 1997
This is the compelling story of a boy from an American missionary family living in Switzerland who vacation every year in Portofino, Italy.

Having been a missionary child myself (although my parents were nothing like Calvin's and from a different flavor of Protestantism) I could relate to many of the situations in the book . Calvin's family lives in a sort of fundamentalist La La land where Catholics are the ultimate evil and must be converted yet free will has no meaning and only the "elect" are saved. They would be a moral superfamily if they lived by their own ideals, but the father has an uncontrollable temper and the mother goes against everything in which she says she believes in the one scene in the book which streatches credulity (I won't give away the details), making the sinners they are trying to convert look like the real saints.

In the end, Calvin shows signs of becoming a normal productive member of society by thinking critically about the things which have been drilled into his head by his family and engaging in harmless but nonetheless forbidden activities which are a normal part of coming of age.

A word of warning: although the book sets boundaries of decency which are never crossed, I'm sure that many fundamentalists would be aghast at its light treatment of a way of thinking which is still prevalent today.
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on 25 January 1999
As a missionary kid myself I didn't grow up in a family like this, but I recognized the same dynamics I saw in the families of fellow missionaries. This book was altogether fascinating and funny. My brother and I were in stitches of laughter as I read aloud to him the chapter in which Calvin tries to outwit predestination by tipping and then quickly uprighting the salt shaker at the dinner table. Calvin's logic is impeccable in this chapter! For anyone brought up in a conservative evangelical Christian family, this is a "must-read!"
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on 14 September 2012
A mishkid is someone brought up in a missionary family. Often also referred to as a third culture kid, they are members of neither their parents' country's culture nor the culture in which they are brought up. Army kids and embassy kids also find it difficult to answer the question 'Where are you from?'

Portofino describes the tensions of being a mishkid beautifully. Not Swiss, not Italian, but not really American, not grown up but not a child, not religious but not worldly, Calvin Becker is more my kind of guy than Holden Caulfield.

Often hilarious, beautifully descriptive and a wry send up of the silly world of the religious.
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on 30 July 1999
I enjoyed this book immensely, but the number one question I have is, to what extent is it autobiographical. Was Frank's real family, the esteemed Schaeffers, as whacky as the fictional Beckers? If so, there's a lot more going on here than just an enjoyable piece of fiction. They are obviously not portrayed in a very good light. It's a great story but the real-life drama behind it has really piqued my curiosity.
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on 11 April 2008
I am surprised than no reviewers here have picked up on the fact that this is not so much a novel as a sort of autobiography. Despite the standard fiction disclaimer of no relation to living or dead persons the author has subsequently referred to semi-autobiographical novels and his Crazy For God autobiography published in 2007. In both cases an American Presbyterian missionary family resident in Switzerland holiday in Portofino. Their US sending church denomination splits. The father is bad tempered and violent but not so pious as the mother, she of long prayers and embarrassing evangelism. The boy narrator goes to boarding school in England. He has learning difficulties. Sex plays a big part in his young life. His pious elder sister are good obedient little missionaries. He is not. He loves to be with the local homosexual artist. All these are in the recent autobiography so how much of the rest is fiction is open to question.

The author is gifted in his descriptive writing of Italy and his adolescent development rings true but unless I had known some of this family in real life I would not have found it a gripping plot. His mother's agressive evangelism and his father's violence are hard to believe. Calvin Becker is an angry young missionary kid. Frank Schaeffer seems to be still angry even now in his fifties.
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on 8 September 1997
This novel brought back many of my own memories being raised in a fundamentalist home and let me laugh at those old embarrassments of my childhood. I must warn you, though, if you are sitting in a room with another person while reading this book, you are going to have to explain your outbursts of laughter!

In one of my favorite passages, Calvin is describing yet another church split. He describes the topic of the controversy, but can't remember on which side of the conflict they eventually landed. But what was important, he stated, was that "we knew we were right."

I highly recommend this book.
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on 5 October 1998
Portofino is a superb book. The story is excellent and realistic. Portofino reminds me of my own vacations as a child to the South of France. I especially like the ending, I think we can all relate to that sad and empty feeling of a child when vacations are coming to an end.
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on 14 August 2016
could not get into it. Love Frank Schaeffer as a writer but some how this was not grabbing me
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on 15 October 1999
I am really going to praise this book. I could never really get into books that much but this one is the first one that I could really relate to. The sexual parts like the sex between Jennifer and Calvin are so in line with how teenagers feel today, and how apprehensive they are about having sex for the first time. I really enjoyed this, especially the sexy parts as they remind me of how I used to feel!
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on 4 December 1996
I picked up Frank Schaeffer's Portofino in an airport bookstore as my wife and I took off for a trip to Europe. For the next week, as we prepared to go to sleep in different hotel rooms and camping grounds I read aloud the story of Calvin and his family.
While the book is represented as a coming-of-age story, we were most enthralled with the challenges to a child growing up in a devout missionary family where religion was the sacred basis of life, but also the tedious anchor to adventure.
Our favorite scene involved the 'bahini' (beach attendant) arguing with the English and the Italians after a dispute on the amount of time a rental boat was used.
A delightful book, and moreso as a book read aloud between two adults.
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