Sunday, June 22, 2008

THE ALMOND PICKER by SIMONETTA AGNELLO HORNBY

Sicily, 1963. Maria Rosalia Inzerillo, the almond picker--Mennulara, in Sicilian--has just died. Through a series of short chapters from the points of view of the inhabitants of Roccacolomba, the small village in Sicily where Mennulara lived and served, a complex portrait of the woman emerges. Mennulara is a study in contradictions. Uneducated but well-read. Coarse yet cultured. Reviled, adored, misunderstood, she was a maid who also managed the estates--and ran the lives of--the family she worked for, and has exerted an influence upon a great many of the inhabitants of Roccacolomba and the surrounding countryside.

As the portrait of Mennulara is painted, so is a portrait of Sicily during a time of change. Modern times are encroaching, globalization (before the term was even invented) has begun, and small town life will never be the same. But in the end, it is Mennulara whom we finally come to know, and the secret we learn, the key that unlocks the mystery that she was, is simple and sublime.

The Almond Picker is a small, beautifully wrought gem of a novel. Its simple language, with humor and insight, brings to life a time long past and the people who lived in it.


What I'm reading now: In For the Kill, by John Lutz




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