A Kiss from Maddalena

A Kiss from Maddalena

4.3 23
by Christopher Castellani

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"It is the spring of 1943, and most of the young men of the village of Santa Cecilia have gone to war. For Vito Leone, time is short. A few months shy of the draft, he has begun to woo the beautiful Maddalena Piccinelli, the daughter of the town's most powerful family. No matter that her parents dismiss him as a mammoni, a mama's boy, or that her older sister has…  See more details below


"It is the spring of 1943, and most of the young men of the village of Santa Cecilia have gone to war. For Vito Leone, time is short. A few months shy of the draft, he has begun to woo the beautiful Maddalena Piccinelli, the daughter of the town's most powerful family. No matter that her parents dismiss him as a mammoni, a mama's boy, or that her older sister has publicly called him a fool. Even his best friend thinks he's in over his head. But Maddalena sees the romantic side of Vito, his humor and tenderness. As the war intensifies, so do her feelings toward her unlikely suitor." When the Italians surrender to the Allies and the retreating German soldiers invade Santa Cecilia, everyone flees except Vito and his mother. Alone amidst the ruins of his beloved village, Vito, with ingenuity and boundless devotion, comes up with the perfect plan to prove himself deserving of Maddalena. The Piccinellis and the rest of the villagers return home after the war to find that Vito has made some surprising changes. Now, only one man - a visitor from America - stands in his way, and Maddalena is faced with an impossible choice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stendhal, in his book On Love, claimed that Italy was the home of passionate love because Italians take reverie as seriously as politics. Castellani, a young American writer, takes the Stendhalian viewpoint in this charming first novel. Vito Leone is a 17-year-old in the Italian village of Santa Cecilia in 1943, one of the few males who have not gone off to war. Vito is only intermittently aware of the fighting, since his attention is absorbed by the village beauty, Maddalena Picinelli. Vito is the village clown, living alone with his mother, Concetta, who suffers from a chronic mental disorder. Despite these circumstances, Maddalena reciprocates Vito's love. On the night that the Germans come through Santa Cecilia, blowing up buildings, Maddalena nearly decides to give herself to Vito, but to scare Maddalena into chastity, Carolina, Maddalena's shrewd sister, tells her of a young village woman who recently died in childbirth. The Picinellis flee to the countryside for the duration of the war, while Vito, in the mostly deserted village, cares for his mother. After the Germans nearly destroy the Picinelli house, Vito rebuilds it. When the Picinellis return to Santa Cecilia, they are surprised to find their house preserved, but they want to bestow Maddalena upon a prosperous Italian-American, Antonio Grasso. Will she sacrifice Vito for her family? Vito, Maddalena and Carolina are strong characters, and Castellani creates a velvety, cinematic atmosphere-a touch clich d, but rich and effective nonetheless. Like a Verdi opera, Castellani's story creates a certain grandeur out of its own lightness. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
An unusual love story from beginning to end, between the prettiest girl in town, Maddalena Piccinelli, and one of the last remaining young men—skinny, foolish, Vito Leone. The story begins in a small village in Italy in 1943, when the war was felt mostly as a hungry maw of young men who disappeared into the army. Vito knows his next birthday will force him away from his sick mother who depends on him, but also away from the girl he has had a crush on forever. When Italy changes sides in the war, everything changes. Just when Vito and Maddalena grow close, they must part. This is a beautifully written, perfectly flavored story that captures the times and the people of rural Italy during WW II in a very personal way. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, Penguin, Berkley, 339p., Ages 15 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
Library Journal
In 1945 Italy, in a remote mountain village of semiliterate peasants, Vito nurtures an initially unrequited affection for beautiful Maddalena, daughter of the village's leading family. The young women think only of God and kisses, not always in that order, while most of the young men are away fighting a war they do not understand. Even the privileged men who listen to the radio have only a faint understanding of world events and do not know whether they are for or against Mussolini and whether the Germans or the Allies will kill or protect them. The central question, though, is whether Vito is "good enough" for Maddalena, defined as having money and aspirations. Unfortunately, the writing in this not entirely auspicious debut could have used editorial help, as when Vito is deemed "friendless" and "without friends" in the same sentence. The action verbs used to describe heartbreaking situations often make them cartoonlike, and the characters sometimes sound like contemporary Brooklynites. This may be an accurate depiction of Italian villagers of the period, but it is not a flattering one. For comprehensive collections of World War II fiction.-Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Lyrical first outing about star-crossed love in southern Italy in the 1940s. In May 1943, Vito Leone is just a few months shy of his 18th birthday, when he'll be drafted into the army like all the other young men whose absence torments the villagers of Santa Cecilia. They don't question the war's purpose (the author pulls no punches about Italians' support for Mussolini, and even Hitler), but people in the impoverished Abruzzo region have few illusions about their subordinate and generally unlucky place in the scheme of things. The parents of beautiful Maddalena Picinelli dream of a better life for their daughter and don't appreciate Vito's attentions, though Maddalena, 16, is intrigued by his passion. A romance unfolds amid a beautiful rendering of provincial life, with the unchanging natural rhythms and structured society that seem comforting to Maddalena but stultifying to her fiery sister Carolina. When Italy surrenders in the fall of 1943, most villagers, including the Picinellis, flee the vengefully retreating Germans, but Vito is trapped in Santa Cecilia with his ailing mother. He survives and even restores the Picinellis' ruined house before they return at war's end, but Maddalena's parents intend her for a wealthier husband. She loves Vito, sort of, but "had the power to control none of it" and felt that "she played such a small part in her own life." This is a passivity that makes Maddalena increasingly irritating, especially since it's never been terribly clear why she's so special except that other people keep declaring that she is. That may be the point, as the closing chapters here amply demonstrate that Maddalena lacks strength to resist other people's plans and doesn'treally deserve Vito. The beautiful final paragraph, aching with tenderness and regret, would be even more moving if she'd been a more engaging character to begin with. Not perfect, but Castellani's faultless reproduction of a distant time and place, his elegant, eloquent prose, and his warm sympathy mark him as a talent to watch.

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.26(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.91(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Christopher Castellani has published two previous novels with Algonquin—A Kiss from Maddalena, which won the Massachusetts Books Award for Fiction; and The Saint of Lost Things. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, where he is the artistic director of Grub Street, the Boston-based non-profit creative writing center. Author website: www.christopher castellani.com

Brief Biography

Arlington, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
December 7, 1972
Place of Birth:
Wilmington, Delaware
B.A., Swarthmore College, 1994; M.A./A.B.D., Tufts University, 1998; M.A., Boston University, 1999

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Kiss from Maddalena 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautiful love story that twists and turns its way through a war. The author had a wonderful way of making war-torn Italy seem tragically romantic and yet the story is surprisingly realistic in it's plotline.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I could not put the book down. It is such a wonderful story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. I felt the plotline was very intriguing espcecially the ending. It appears the author did his homework as the details are accurate. Having grown up in central Italy I found the the character's personality very true to life and it reminded me of life in small italian town.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book kept me up late--I couldn't wait to discover what happened to Maddalena and Vito. Castellani's prose is elegant and vivid--you will feel transported to another world and another time. Castellani brings to life a whole village, Santa Cecilia, and each of the characters. I just hope there's a sequel in the works, because I want to spend time with these characters again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful story...just lovely
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is amazing, it really pulls you in and holds your heart... I wanted it to go on! I can't wait to see if there is a part 2. If you are interested in a great story, a romance, a story of stregnth and courage, of love and life, this is the book for you!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book. I could not put it down. I met the author at the National Italian American Foundation Youth Retreat in August of 2003 and he said this is part one of a (hopefully) three part series. He has given me a passion for reading again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a delightful and magical debut novel. Typically a selfish reader, I paced myself in order to treasure each and every passage. The character development is beyond explanation. I adore this boo
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down - I highly recommend it to anyone! Beautiful writing where you forget you're reading and the story just flows off the pages. Although it is a love story there are (thankfully) no "steamy scenes (they would detract from the story anyway). Overall an excellent read that I wish had aa second (or third) part to it like a sequel.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book twice; lyrical, romantic and definitely a good page-turner...I can't wait to read Castellani's next novel!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was so wonderful I didn't want to finish it. I want more!
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Growing_rocks More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing read! It was a touching, sweet story. I loved loved loved it :o)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read for those who enjoy fiction based on history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Written with crisp, sparse prose this WWII romantic story of out of reach love will play like a classic movie in your head. Vito finds himself in love withthe youngest of four sisters from a family in his village that owns the village store. The family, having sent two sons to fight the war, deems Vito a mama's boy not fit for anyone, especially their most precious daughter. The war years send the family away to a relatives vineyard while Vito remains in the village, proving his worth caring for his ill mother and proving himself worthy of respect as a potential husband. What happens when the family returns to the village is not predictable. The ending happened more abruptly than I would like. The overall style of the novel was well written but the ending came in a summary narrative that seemed out of sync with the rest of the story. That's my only complaint. I would also recommend SKELETONS AT THE FEAST, CHOCOLAT, and TOMATO RHAPSODY if you like this book.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Say no. Not worth a pennny. Don't fall for it. Its fake