God's Mountain

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Overview

This is a story told by a boy in his thirteenth year, recorded in his secret diary. His life is about to change; his world, about to open.

He lives in Montedidio—God’s Mountain—a cluster of alleys in the heart of Naples. He brings a paycheck home every Saturday from Mast’Errico’s carpentry workshop where he sweeps the floor. He is on his way to becoming a man—his boy’s voice is abandoning him. His wooden boomerang is neither toy nor tool, but something in between. Then there is ...

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God's Mountain

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Overview

This is a story told by a boy in his thirteenth year, recorded in his secret diary. His life is about to change; his world, about to open.

He lives in Montedidio—God’s Mountain—a cluster of alleys in the heart of Naples. He brings a paycheck home every Saturday from Mast’Errico’s carpentry workshop where he sweeps the floor. He is on his way to becoming a man—his boy’s voice is abandoning him. His wooden boomerang is neither toy nor tool, but something in between. Then there is Maria, the thirteen-year-old girl who lives above him and, like so many girls, is wiser than he.  She carries the burden of a secret life herself. She’ll speak to him for the first time this summer. There is also his friendship with a cobbler named Rafaniello, a Jewish refugee who has escaped the horrors of the Holocaust, who has no idea how long he’s been on this earth, and who is said to sprout wings for a blessed few.

It is 1963, a young man’s summer of discovery. A time for a boy with innocent hands and a pure heart to look beyond the ordinary in everyday things to see the far-reaching landscape, and all of its possibilities, from a rooftop terrace on God’s Mountain.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With a surreal and quiet economy reminiscent of Max Frisch's Man in the Holocene (or perhaps Beckett's Ill Seen, Ill Said, only without the verbal gymnastics), this international bestseller has some of the innocent charm of Saint-Exup ry and much of the darkness to which European literary fiction is heir. The narrative is the diary of a 13-year-old boy at the cusp of manhood in an isolated world. The setting is Montedidio, or "God's Mountain," a "neighborhood of alleyways" in Naples, Italy, in the 1960s. The unnamed narrator struggles to learn "proper Italian" in lieu of his native dialect as he labors at a carpentry workshop and stoically observes the inexorable decline of his mother's health. His upstairs neighbor, Maria, a sadly wise girl his own age who's been seduced by their landlord, initiates his sexual experience. The tableau of near-grotesques includes a good-hearted homosexual printer, a hunchbacked Jewish cobbler who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, and the sensed presence of spirits and angels. The language, while simple, has surprising, fresh moments: the cobbler's cheerful stories "pump" the narrator's bones "full of air." Teardrops "burst" from eyes "with a shot from inside." While little new ground is covered, the book is effective in its poignant immediacy, as the narrator bears the rigors of a lonely and tragic coming of age. The story also chronicles the narrator's central passion: his boomerang, a gift from his father. As a simple and elegant trope, the boomerang encompasses both the freedom and hope inherent in his longing to escape, as well as the futility of his aspirations. After all, it flies far, but returns no matter how hard he tries to cast it away. (Dec.)
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Montedidio is a poor neighborhood in Naples where in 1960 a 13-year-old takes a giant step toward manhood. He leaves school and goes to work for a carpenter; meets Maria, who awakens his sexuality; and makes friends with a cobbler, Rafaniello, a Jewish refugee from the horrors of World War II. Rafaniello, a hunchback, says his hump contains angel wings that some day will unfold so he can fly to Jerusalem. For his birthday, the teen's father gives him a boomerang, a gift from a sailor, and it becomes his talisman; he wears it inside his shirt and builds his strength by pretending to throw it. His mother is dying, and Papa spends all his time at the hospital, so the boy is on his own, but for his girlfriend. With his wife's death, his father's world crumbles, and the boy becomes his support and comfort. On New Year's Eve, he finally throws the boomerang from the rooftop of his building and Rafaniello flings himself into the night sky, leaving behind two feathers. The boy's diary reveals his innermost thoughts as he faces loss, finds love, and learns self-reliance, all in six months. Written with eloquence and simplicity, this novella describes the universal challenges of adolescence, irrespective of time and place.-Molly Connally, Chantilly Regional Library, VA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
After Sea of Memory (1999), De Luca offers another symbolic tale of adolescence, filling a few crucial months in the life of a Neapolitan boy. When he turns 13, much happens to our narrator: he finishes with school; goes to work; falls in love; and waits as his mother becomes ill and dies. All of this takes place in a poor part of Naples known as Montedidio-God's Mountain. And it does seem touched by God. The boy's new job is as assistant to cabinet-maker Errico, for whom "the day is a morsel. One bite and it's gone, so let's get busy." Errico gives over a corner of his shop to the humpback cobbler Rafaniello, refugee from a European village annihilated recently by WWII. In a gifted, saintly, almost magical way, Rafaniello, in this workshop of boy, cobbler, and carpenter, repairs the shoes of the poor so they're as good as new. Another wooden object, meanwhile, plays a big part in the boy's life: a boomerang, birthday gift from his father. Inside Rafaniello's hump, we learn, are wings that before long will "hatch," enabling their kindly owner, as he devoutly desires, to fly from Naples to Jerusalem. The boy, meanwhile, practices and practices how to throw his boomerang-without yet letting it go, since in crowded Montedidio "there's not enough room to spit between your feet" let alone release a boomerang. But practice builds up his muscles, something noticed by Maria, a girl his own age who lives in his building and has been keeping her family from eviction through sexual favors to the aging landlord. That all ends, however, when her love for the boy gives her-and him-a new power, purity, and happiness. Themes converge-age, youth, desire, sanctity, flight-on New Year's Eve, when thingshappen, or seem to, that bring all to a hopeful and lovely close. A holiday tale of wondrously humble miracles without once becoming saccharine. Lovely indeed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781573229609
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/1/1995
  • Edition description: FIRST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 742,474
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Erri De Luca was born in Naples in 1950. He is a columnist for Il Manifesto and a novelist whose work has been translated into seven languages. He lives outside of Rome.

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Reading Group Guide

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
  1. Discuss the ways in which the narrator's physical, intellectual, and sexual identity are shaped over the course of the novel. What are the defining events of his development? How has he changed by time Rafaniello takes flight?

  2. "In spring I was still a child and now I'm in the middle of things I can't understand," the narrator of God's Mountain reveals (p. 128). What things is he referring to? What, if any understanding of the events surrounding him has he come to by the end of the story?

  3. What role does Maria play in the narrator's life? What is she seeking from him? Why does she say that their love is, "an alliance, a combative force."? (p.105) Against whom are they allied? What binds them together?

  4. "Not everything is good about my body growing. Something evil grows up alongside it... a bitter force capable of violence...Is this what men suddenly become?" the narrator asks himself (p. 155). Do you think he has arrived at an answer by the end of the story? Why or why not?

  5. Why has the author set this story among the winding alleys and high perches of the town of Montedidio? How does the narrator's perception of his town differ from Rafaniello's? His father's? What about Maria's? How do economic circumstances affect the lives of these characters?

  6. Language and voice play a central part in the development of the young narrator. How does his writing practice contribute to your understanding of him as a character? What about his understanding of himself? Why does his voice emerge only at the very end of the novel?

  7. This story includes a Jerusalem-bound shoemaker with wings beneath his hump, a boomerang that may have been carved from the Ark of the Covenant, and a carpenter who likes to fish. Discuss the significance of these and other religious motifs in the novel.

  8. Why do you think the name of the narrator is never revealed to the reader?

  9. Is God's Mountain is a coming-of-age story? A fairy tale? A religious allegory? All of these? Why or why not?
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Customer Reviews

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