Friday, October 5, 2012

The Almond Picker by Simonetta Agnello Hornby, translated by Alistair McEwen

In Sicily in 1963, the death of the Alfallipe family's longtime maidservant is not the end of her influence upon them. Known as Mennulara (the almond picker), Maria Rosalia Inzerillo had worked for the Alfallipes since she was 13. At the time of Mennulara's death, she had been managing the Alfallipe family estate for years. How did she come to hold such power, far above her station in life? Why did an important mafia boss attend her funeral? And what about the inheritance due the three adult Alfallipe siblings? Will they still be forced to follow Mennulara's instructions now that she is dead?

Simonetta Agnello Hornby's The Almond Picker spans one month in time and encompasses a multitude of characters, each contributing a piece to the larger picture. I sometimes found it hard to keep track of how the different townspeople were related to each other and what their connections were with Mennulara. It didn't matter if the voices occasionally blended into a noisy crowd because the remarkable woman at the centre emerges clearly by the end of the novel. She was despised, loved, scorned and admired, depending on the individual.

Some folks get in trouble for prying to closely into Mennulara's background: "Today, he found that someone had destroyed the engine of his car, a Fiat Seicento, by pouring cement into it. Neither he nor that spineless boss of his knows which saint to turn to." Meanwhile, the Alfallipe siblings are exposed for their grasping, lazy, presumptuous and ungrateful selves -- putting on quite a spectacle for the town.

It's a big-hearted Italian Peyton Place and I highly recommend it.

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