A Kiss from Maddalena

A Kiss from Maddalena

4.3 23
by Christopher Castellani

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It is 1943, and Santa Cecilia has become a village of women. All the young men are away at war, except for Vito Leone, his best friend, and the shopkeeper's son. When Vito falls in love with Maddalena Picinelli, the shy and beautiful daughter of the town's most powerful family, a few obstacles appear in his path. Maddalena's sassy, iron-willed sister Carolina thinks… See more details below


It is 1943, and Santa Cecilia has become a village of women. All the young men are away at war, except for Vito Leone, his best friend, and the shopkeeper's son. When Vito falls in love with Maddalena Picinelli, the shy and beautiful daughter of the town's most powerful family, a few obstacles appear in his path. Maddalena's sassy, iron-willed sister Carolina thinks he's a penniless fool. Her parents think his crazy mother has turned him into a mammoni, a mama's boy. But Maddalena sees another side of Vito. He's romantic. He builds a bicycle for the girls to ride. He takes care of his feeble mama, who hasn't been the same since her husband and daughters ran off to America. And Vito is determined to win Maddalena's hand even though she has three older sisters who must be married off first.

When the Italians surrender to the Allies and German soldiers invade Santa Cecilia, everyone flees but Vito and his mother. With ingenuity and boundless devotion, Vito comes up with a plan to prove that he's a suitable suitor. The Picinelli family returns home after the war to find that some miraculous changes have taken place. Now, only one man stands in Vito's way, and Maddalena is forced to choose between her family's wishes and her own heart.

In the spirit of Corelli's Mandolin and Chocolat, A KISS FROM MADDALENA is a captivating novel that celebrates the beauty of life and the passions of youth.

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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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Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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