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The Day Before Happiness
Cover of The Day Before Happiness
The Day Before Happiness
A Novel
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Just after World War II, a young orphan living in Naples comes under the protection of Don Gaetano, the superintendent of an apartment building. He is a generous man and is very attached to the boy, telling him about the war and the liberation of the city by the Neapolitans. He teaches him to play cards, shows him how to do odd jobs for the tenants, and even initiates him into the world of sex by sending him one evening to a widow who lives in the building. But Don Gaetano possesses another gift as well: he knows how to read people's thoughts and guesses correctly that his young friend is haunted by the image of a girl he noticed by chance behind a window during a soccer match. Years later, when the girl returns, the orphan will need Don Gaetano's help more than ever.

Just after World War II, a young orphan living in Naples comes under the protection of Don Gaetano, the superintendent of an apartment building. He is a generous man and is very attached to the boy, telling him about the war and the liberation of the city by the Neapolitans. He teaches him to play cards, shows him how to do odd jobs for the tenants, and even initiates him into the world of sex by sending him one evening to a widow who lives in the building. But Don Gaetano possesses another gift as well: he knows how to read people's thoughts and guesses correctly that his young friend is haunted by the image of a girl he noticed by chance behind a window during a soccer match. Years later, when the girl returns, the orphan will need Don Gaetano's help more than ever.

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Excerpts-
  • From the book An angry summer, it was almost cold. In July the tip of the volcano turned white. People played its numbers at the lottery and up they came, promptly. There were big wins. The year before a cobbler had nailed four out of five. I asked Don Gaetano whether thoughts ever came to him with numbers. He made a gesture as if he were brushing away a fly. But was there an art to it? Could you learn to hear people’s thoughts?
       “First of all, don’t call them people, they’re persons, each and every one. If you call them people you lose sight of the person. You can’t hear the thoughts of people, but of persons, one at a time.”
       He was right, until that age I hadn’t noticed persons, it was all one people. At the doorman’s station that summer I learned to recognize the tenants. As a child the only one who mattered to me was on the third floor behind the window, I didn’t even know what her parents
    looked like. She had disappeared and after that getting to know the building’s other tenants didn’t much matter to me.
About the Author-
  • Erri De Luca was born in Naples in 1950 and today lives in the countryside near Rome. He is the author of several novels, including God's Mountain and Three Horses (Other Press). He taught himself Hebrew and translated several books of the Bible into Italian. He is the most widely read Italian author alive today as well as an international best seller.
    Michael F. Moore is a New York--based translator and scholar whose previous translations
    include God's Mountain and Three Horses, both by Erri De Luca, and The Silence of the Body by Guido Ceronetti.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    October 1, 2011
    Love and war in Naples. The narrator, an orphan, grows up a young man in postwar Naples, tutored by Don Gaetano, an apartment super and wise old man who was out of sympathy with the Fascists. During the war Don Gaetano helped hide a Jew in an underground room, one the young narrator finds by accident when a soccer ball lands near its hidden entrance. A neighborhood soccer game also leads the narrator to discover Anna, the love of his life, when as a child he climbs up a drainpipe to retrieve an errant ball and sees a young girl in a third-floor window. Time passes, the war ends, and the girl goes away. Years later, however, she returns to the apartment, and they have sex, the fulfillment of a fantasy that the narrator had harbored for much of his adolescence. His sexual initiation had actually occurred earlier with a widow who lived in the building and was getting tired of her physical intimacy with Don Gaetano. Anna is young, attractive and sexually proficient, but she has two regrettable failings--she has a gangster as a boyfriend (fortunately for the narrator temporarily housed in prison), and she's mad, a condition emphasized by flights of disconnected verbal fantasy. It turns out the narrator is more willing to forgive the latter than the former, especially when the gangster shows up, knife in hand, to challenge Anna's new suitor. A lyrical narrative about a thorny search for happiness.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2011

    Under the loving eye of a wise and protective older man, the orphaned young hero of this novel by prominent Italian author De Luca (Three Horses; God's Mountain) comes of age in Naples in the years following World War II. The boy models himself on lessons learned from his mentor's somewhat enigmatic stories about his own life, especially those involving the resistance in the last phases of the war, and his moralistic tales about life in general. As the boy grows, so grows his fascination with sex and with a girl he fantasizes about for years. The man's intuition and guidance support the youth at many potentially treacherous junctures, ultimately saving him from martyrdom. VERDICT This novel is tender, lyrical without apology, and intensely moving at times, although the eye is somewhat distracted by an awkward translation that snags the flow of the vibrant narration. This would best serve Italian history buffs and readers intrigued with boys' coming-of-age stories.--Joyce J. Townsend, Pittsburg, CA

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • The National "High hopes in clear language, cautions against real evil, and scenes thick with poetic sentiment - these elements fuel the warmth to be found in De Luca's brief but affecting novels."
  • Library Journal "Tender, lyrical without apology, and intensely moving."
  • Bookslut "Full of steadfast and simple charm... while still being steadfastly aware of the larger histories that are always playing out in the backgrounds of whatever it is that charms us in a momentary idyll."
  • David Gutowski, Largeheartedboy.com "The Day Before Happiness is an innovatively told post-World War II thriller set in Naples. An orphan boy's past is revealed to him in this lyrical book, and postwar Italy is arrestingly captured in these pages...One of the most moving books I have read all year."
  • Kirkus Reviews "A lyrical narrative about a thorny search for happiness."
  • Avvenire "The story of a risky happiness, the happiness of a city in revolt, of a violent and rediscovered love."
  • L'Alsace "A hymn to life, to the Resistance, to education."
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The Day Before Happiness
The Day Before Happiness
A Novel
Erri De Luca
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