From the Publisher
“A slim book with outsize ambitions, an engaging subtle look at the complicated history of a family and a country . . . impressive . . . Her compact prose is studded with rich and telling detail . . . compelling.” Los Angeles Times
“Written with a passionate clarity and with surprising wisdom, Inheritance is possessed of a genuine fictional beauty.” Chuck Wachtel, author of Joe the Engineer
“Although it's barely 200 pages long this first novel has enough plot for several books. Danford juggles this with aplomb. She is an old-fashioned storyteller.” The New York Times Book Review
“Danford displays remarkable stylistic prose.” The Boston Globe
“In Natalie Danford's Inheritance, Olivia Bonocchio goes where each of us knows we should never go: past a father's persona and into the sloppy, disconcerting truth of who he really was. Danford perfectly captures the dance between the kind of knowledge that can banish a person from the garden and the sort of truth that can set her free. Inheritance may be a debut novel, but the storytelling is so assured, it reads like the work of a reliable old pro---something Danford seems destined to become.” Mark Winegardner, author of Crooked River Burning and The Godfather Returns
author of Crooked River Burning and The Godfather Mark Winegardner
In Natalie Danford's Inheritance, Olivia Bonocchio goes where each of us knows we should never go: past a father's persona and into the sloppy, disconcerting truth of who he really was. Danford perfectly captures the dance between the kind of knowledge that can banish a person from the garden and the sort of truth that can set her free. Inheritance may be a debut novel, but the storytelling is so assured, it reads like the work of a reliable old pro-something Danford seems destined to become.
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Rich or poor, we each have an inheritance -- our heritage. But how well do we know the people we call our parents? It's a question that leads Olivia Bonocchio, the heroine of Danford's debut, across the Atlantic to confront a devastating past. Olivia's mother was claimed by cancer when she was just five, and her Italian-born father, Luigi, raised her. When Luigi succumbs to the effects of Alzheimer's disease, Olivia is largely relieved. While cleaning out his house, she discovers a deed to a house in Italy, dated 1940. Curious as to whether the property could now be hers, she impulsively travels to her father's hometown, where she quickly becomes involved with a local, and much to her dismay, begins to uncover her father's chilling youth.
With uncompromising skill, Danford weaves together a novel that works as a mystery, a family saga, an unusual of coming-of-age story, and a lesson in conversational Italian. Moving back and forth from WWII to the late 20th century, readers meet Olivia and Luigi at different stages in their lives: Luigi as a young Italian and a new American immigrant; Olivia as a child, a tenacious adolescent, and finally, as a woman hoping to find herself by combing through the past. The artifacts Olivia has - indeed, even a key - help illuminate the path to the truth. But inheritance, like the discovery of a hidden truth, is often a mixed blessing.
(Spring 2007 Selection)
After her Italian immigrant father, Luigi, dies, Olivia Bonocchio discovers among his effects the deed to a property in his hometown of Urbino, Italy, though what she finds out in Danford's debut complicates her idea of who her father was. Olivia, mysterious deed in tow, travels to Urbino to learn if the deed is "a fluke." What she learns about her father's family's wartime lives shocks her. Olivia's travels are interwoven with flashback chapters that chart Luigi's life, from his teenage years in Urbino as the Germans approach, to his immigrant experience in America, where, in 1959, he settles in Shaleford, N.Y., and marries a local store owner's daughter. The perspectives of Luigi and Olivia provide intriguing takes on each other's hometown, and the tension roiling beneath the surface should carry readers though the moments of awkwardly handled Italian-sprinkled dialogue. Danford (a PW contributor) handles her wide canvas--wartime Italy, postwar America and the tricky terrain of dark family secrets--with confidence. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Danford's debut novel is an overall achievement in storytelling, giving readers the portrait of an Italian immigrant who keeps his past hidden from his daughter only to have her investigate his secret after his death. The narrative successfully moves from parent to child, recalling Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Like that novel, Danford's work conveys the isolation of being both a parent and a foreigner in America, but here the emotions are not on the surface; Danford's characters are more detached, and sometimes the reader is too aware of the writer crafting her prose instead of her characters. The main character, Luigi, appears at first too unremarkable for anyone to care about, making the initial vignette tedious. Fortunately, Danford quickly introduces key elements to the story, and the characters take shape. In the end, readers will be flipping the pages in anticipation of learning the whole truth about Luigi's past and its impact on his daughter. Danford is coeditor of the annual "Best New American Voices" series. Recommended for public libraries.-Shalini Miskelly, Highline Community Coll. Lib., Des Moines, WA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A young woman travels to Italy and discovers her father's secret past. Olivia Bonocchio's mother, who died when she was five, was an only child, and Olivia always assumed her father Luigi was too. Born in the Marche region, he arrived in America in 1944 and never discussed his past. When Luigi becomes ill with Alzheimer's, Olivia, an art teacher in Manhattan, rearranges her life to grant him his last wish: that he die in the suburban home he was so proud to own. It is there she discovers an antique brass key and a deed to a house in Urbino, which prompt Olivia to investigate once her father is laid to rest. Barely three hours after signing the hotel register in Urbino, she is startled to meet a first cousin, Claudia, that she didn't know she had. Over dinner that night at her cousin's home, Olivia leafs through a box of photographs her father had sent his sister, now dead, over the years. No notes or letters. Only photos. The next day, a lawyer she contacts tries to persuade Olivia to forget the deed. He tells her that Luigi was a collaborator during the war. The house was owned by the Levi family. When it became illegal for Jews to own property, the father signed the house over to Luigi, who was his daughter's friend. The Levis went into hiding and Luigi turned them in. Upon learning this, Olivia wishes she had never come. Is it possible her cousin, her lawyer, even a hotel maid, know her father's character better than she? Olivia decides to stay and find out. Danford skillfully interweaves Luigi's story with Olivia's to reveal a complex truth. An engaging debut. Agent: Lisa Bankoff/ICM
Read an Excerpt
Every Wednesday at five when he finished at the lab, Luigi got into his car and drove to the camera store, where Doug taught him to take pictures. His first photos were simple, almost embarrassing: cars in the parking lot, lined up in rows like fish slapped onto a table at the market, and Doug's face, his thin mustache and full eyebrows dividing the frame horizontally into thirds. That first evening Luigi took two rolls of film, and when he returned the next week, they were waiting for him. The developed photos were sticky and smelled like unripe fruit.
"You'll get tired of taking pictures of this ugly mug pretty quick," Doug prompted him as Luigi leafed through the pile and saw photos of Doug smiling, frowning, pointing a finger near his forehead in a mock salute. He'd been in the army during the war, he'd told Luigi casually, but the farthest he'd gotten was Tennessee. "Foreign enough for my taste," he'd reported. Like most Americans, Luigi noted, Doug believed that where he was, and the way he was, were the best place and way to be. Luigi had tasted a little of that security himself one night about a month after he'd moved into the Shaleford house. He sat at his kitchen table and ate a plate of pasta that he had cooked, and he felt something. It was an unfamiliar feeling, one he groped to put a finger on. And then he identified it: contentment.
"No, it's fine," Luigi said.
"Well, why not take some pictures of Diane here?" Doug suggested, pointing to his daughter. The first day of Luigi's photo lessons, she'd been wearing a different outfit, a simple white shirt and dark skirt, but today the polka dot dress was making another appearance. She blushed at her father's suggestion, and Luigi could see the reddish color traveling down from her neck and disappearing into the V of her dress like spilled wine spreading over a white tablecloth.
"Dad," Diane said warningly.
"You're a prettier subject than I am," Doug insisted. "Come on around from behind that counter."
Diane stayed where she was.
"She's just a little shy," Doug told Luigi. He tapped twice on the counter and pointed to the door of the store, and Diane slowly closed her book and stood.
Outside it was still light, which was a good thing, because Luigi could hardly afford the camera, let alone the flash he would have needed to take pictures after dark. In the two weeks since he'd bought it, he'd eaten macaroni with an onion browned in butter for dinner every night, and he'd brought his lunch to work -- salami sandwiches on soft supermarket bread that were damp and squashed by lunch time, the white chunks of fat like pliable lumps of tissue. He and Doug had agreed that he'd pay in five installments, one every two weeks.
Now only two cars, Luigi's and Doug's, were parked on the metered strip outside the camera store. The surrounding stores -- a pharmacy, a beauty parlor, the brick post office, and a men's clothing store staid and obsolete enough to sell lederhosen with a straight face -- had all turned out their lights. A diner called Bill's Boxcar sat at the end of the block, an apron of parking lot spread in front of it. The clinking of cups on saucers jumped through its open windows and into the night like sparks. A neon sign in the shape of a hot dog nestled in a bun buzzed in the window, although Luigi was pretty sure they served hamburgers and excellent milkshakes, but no hot dogs.
Diane stood primly in front of her father's black Oldsmobile, which was parked directly in front of the store. Luigi noticed that the meter had run out of money and the arrow now rested in the red zone. Doug was a man who could charm the police, Luigi was sure. Only later did he learn that as a store owner, Doug was entitled to park without paying-no bribing or cajoling necessary. Diane pulled her back straight, a serious expression on her face. She looked like someone who had her picture taken frequently but had never learned to like the attention. Luigi took a step back from her, and then a step forward. He centered her. "You want to fill the frame," Doug had explained to him several times the week before. "Most people get their pictures back, and what they were looking at is just a tiny dot in the distance." Luigi moved in closer, so that the crown of Diane's head brushed the top of the viewfinder rectangle, and her toes rested gently on the bottom. He inhaled and held his breath, as Doug had taught him, bracing his arms against his chest to keep the image stable. Diane blinked and her bad eye straightened, looking forward against its will. And then, at the last second, just as Luigi clicked the button, she grasped the flared skirt of her dress in both hands and pulled it into a wide fan against the hot black metal.
* * * * * * * * * *
After they'd eaten fruit and Olivia had declined three offers of coffee, Claudia gathered the tablecloth and took it to the terrace. Through the half-open French doors, Olivia could see her unfurling it to scatter the crumbs into the garden below. Claudia came in and folded it into a thick square, sponged off the table, then disappeared into the back of the apartment. She returned with a large wooden box and lifted the lid to reveal an interior lined in burgundy velvet and hundreds of photographs.
The first one Olivia focused on was her eighth grade class picture, teeth sparkling with braces, hair pulled back tight and shiny with a large plastic barrette. She picked it up, then dropped it. Underneath was a photograph of her mother that she'd never seen. Her mother held a book open on her lap, and her face pointed into the distance, away from the photographer. Her hair was gathered in a bun at the top of her neck that looked ready to come undone. In another her mother stood in front of a black car with the skirt of her dress held up to form a semi-circle. She stared into the camera. Olivia thought her mother looked like a straight shooter, the sort of woman who didn't make compromises.
There were dozens of shots of the house in Shaleford, in both black and white and color. It was a jolt to see the familiar front door with its metal knocker. There were various versions, the fence more or less painted, different cars in the driveway. And there were dozens of her: Olivia, just a blur on a new bicycle, circa 1967; sitting on the couch with Smudgy, smiling warily at the cat, who clearly wanted to escape her hold; at the kitchen table in a pair of shorts, newly long legs spread before her and crossed at the ankles. Every year she posed in front of a sky-blue backdrop and sometimes a wagon wheel, as her breasts grew and her face shed baby fat. Flipping through the photos was like watching a sped-up movie of her life that ended, suddenly and bluntly, with the beginning of her father's illness. It was as if someone had granted her access to her father's mind, during the times when it still functioned. Here, in black and white and in color, was how her father had seen her. Olivia's eyes filled with tears.
"I told you," Claudia said.
Olivia picked up a clump of photographs, then let them dribble between her fingers like sand. They made shushing noises as they fell into the wooden box and brushed against the other photos. The last photograph that remained in her hand showed the house in Shaleford, a straight-on shot no different than the one the real estate agent had run in the newspaper ad. And then Olivia realized that soon her father's house would be sold, and she had no images of it. Claudia had turned away from her and was attacking a water stain on the stovetop with a sponge. Olivia started to slip the photograph into her pocket, but then she guiltily changed her mind and dropped it back into the box. What sort of person would steal from a cousin? Especially one this kind?
Olivia dug in again. There was not a single picture of her father, unless you counted the occasionally blurry piece of thumb in the upper right-hand corner. She turned a few photographs over and checked their backs for written notes. He hadn't bothered to date any of them, nor had he provided captions. Olivia shook the box in her hands the way she might have shuffled the letter tiles before a game of Scrabble. Although the faces in the photographs were invariably smiling, or at least content, tossed together that way, Olivia found them unbearably sad. Jumbled and out of order, they were reminiscent of her father's mind at the end. She reached for the lid and covered the box.