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Book Review: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani (3/5)

12 Feb

I’ll be honest and say that I was less than thrilled when this title was selected for this year’s ‘Everyone’s Reading’ event. This is a bi-annual event where several Detroit-area libraries get together and bring in an author. Leading up to it, the libraries host programs focused around the book. And, of course, our book clubs all read it. The cover and title of this one threw me off. I was expecting a romance novel complete with a heroine in a ball gown like the cover. Of course, I didn’t read the blurb. So I was hesitant going in and for the first 100 pages, I kept expecting it to change to something more romance-y. But I was pleasantly surprised.

Cover image via Goodreads

Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match.

Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.

From the dreamy mountaintop village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, to the vibrant streets of South Philly, to the close-knit enclave of Roseto, Pennsylvania, to New York City during the birth of the golden age of television, Kiss Carlo is a powerful, inter-generational story that celebrates the ties that bind, while staying true to oneself when all hope seems lost.

Well, that is quite a summary! This book had a lot going on and it took me a while to figure out where I should focus my interest. Nicky was a great character but with everything else to focus on, it took me a while to focus on him. When the story finally settled on him, I let myself get invested. I forgot about the family rivalries and the Borelli financial problems and Hortense’s relationship and focused on Nicky. When those things came up, I gave them their moment, but I focused on Nicky. There was a lot to distract from him in this book and there is where it fell away for me a bit. I wanted a bit more of a focus on one character instead of splitting my interest so much. I also wished for a less miss-leading title and cover, but that’s something completely different.

The characters all felt real to me. While I had trouble keeping Nicky’s character’s straight, there was a lot of truth in his big family. It was wonderful how much they cared for each other and looked out for each other. I adored Calla and her father’s interactions and how she wanted to keep his dream alive despite how much it hurt her. It was encouraging to see her press on. The town of Roseto was a great setting and I could picture the families there and the jubilee that brought everyone together.

Calla was my favorite character. I wanted to say Nicky, but he seemed lost to me for a lot of the book and Calla never did. She’s stubborn and wouldn’t give up on her father’s dream and saw it become her dream. She was strong and stood up for herself even when it may have robbed her of her happiness. I was skeptical of Frank and I’m glad she was, too. It was good to see her stay strong for what she believed in against him.

I related to Nicky and his desire to do something that made him happy. I think we all chase something that delights us and makes us happy. For him, it was acting. He had to work a job he hated to have the chance to do something he loved. I don’t hate my job but I don’t live for it, either. My passions lie elsewhere and that’s fine for me. I was happy for him when his passion became his job, but I know not everyone is as lucky. And it was good that he recognized his fortunate situation and could step away from it when someone else needed him.

Adriana Trigiani
Image via We The Italians

I liked the time in Roseto best. I knew what the focus of the book was, I liked the rush of the ruse, and I liked the people of Roseto and how unique they all were. It was a nice escape from South Philly for a bit.

There were a few plot lines I thought were too much for the book. The family rivalry didn’t add anything to me and I thought it could have been taken out. The number of characters was a bit too much for me, too. I’m still confused about all the Palazzini cousins and who married who and had which kids. I’m not sure I’ll ever map it out. I think this book could have been edited down a bit, but there wasn’t any particular part that I disliked.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Edoardo Ballerini. The fact that it was narrated by a man should have been my first indication that the cover was misleading. Ballerini was a great choice for this book. Clearly, he speaks Italian (or fakes it well) based on the scenes where he reads Carlo’s Italian dialogue. He did great accents for the Palazzini family and all the other immigrant families. I found he did different enough voices for everyone that I could keep the huge host of characters separated in my mind. I also didn’t find his female voices condescending at all. Overall, it was a nice balance.

Family was very important to all the characters in this book. Even though Nicky didn’t have a nuclear family in the traditional sense. However, he was raised by extended family and the friends he surrounded himself with. He had a non-traditional family that loved him and looked after him. Even though he was an orphan, he didn’t face to face the world alone.

Writer’s Takeaway: With so many characters, Trigiani still gave them real and compelling back stories. Hortense is a great example of this. She wasn’t just an employee at the company. She had a history with Nicky’s mom, her own marital problems, and a drive in life that pushed her. Peachy, Frank and many of the actors had less-developed but still unique stories driving them along. She created a very rich world, even if it was a bit much for a stand-alone book.

An enjoyable book, if a bit much for my tastes. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1940-1959 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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