Sea of Memory

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During a summer holiday on an island off Naples in the 1950s, a sixteen-year-old boy, feeling guilty about Italy's recent wartime past, is chagrined to find his family reluctant to answer his questions. Go read books, they tell him; it's all there, but leave us alone. A local fisherman who befriends him is drawn into laconic replies that fill the gaps in the boy's awareness of both Italian and German responsibility. As the holiday progresses, the boy becomes obsessed with a mysterious, slightly older girl who is ...
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Overview

During a summer holiday on an island off Naples in the 1950s, a sixteen-year-old boy, feeling guilty about Italy's recent wartime past, is chagrined to find his family reluctant to answer his questions. Go read books, they tell him; it's all there, but leave us alone. A local fisherman who befriends him is drawn into laconic replies that fill the gaps in the boy's awareness of both Italian and German responsibility. As the holiday progresses, the boy becomes obsessed with a mysterious, slightly older girl who is also vacationing on the island, and from her he learns what it meant to be a Jew under German domination. Through her story, the boy is consumed with the emotional experience of belonging to another time, another people, another place. Now, a few years after the war's end, Germans have once again invaded the Bay of Naples, but this time as well-heeled tourists. The boy's newfound resentment bursts into a flame of retribution in a remarkable climax that leaves him, and the reader, with the understanding that the past can never be forgotten, nor can it be corrected.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This short, moving but slightly strained coming-of-age tale brings the aftermath of the Holocaust to an idyllic Italian island off the coast of Naples. The nameless narrator recalls a summer vacation there during the 1950s; at the age of 16, he learns to fish, falls in love, and discovers the long aftermath of World War II. Eschewing the company of foreign tourists and younger children, he finds a teacher of life in Nicola, a local fisherman who communicates his love of the sea and his memories of war to the boy yearning for knowledge. Attracted by the older, more mysterious girls on the island, the narrator falls in love with Caia, who shares her secret with him: she's Jewish, saved by Italian soldiers from the Nazis who killed the rest of her Yugoslav family. Caia thinks that the narrator shares her father's mannerisms, and may be his reincarnation. Initiated into seamanship by one vicious fish bite and a torrential night expedition, the boy is finally inspired to manifest his newfound manhood, his passion for Caia and his ardent Italian patriotism in a flamboyant, cataclysmic act of destruction, during which his youth, his summer and his tale come to an end. Without Caia's mystic feeling that he embodies her father's spirit, he might lack sufficient motive for the ambitious destruction with which he brings a sort of Armageddon to the island. Nevertheless, the psychic bits hinder what is otherwise an alluring and poignant story about an adolescent in love, in search of himself and of history. Brombert's translation ranges from clear to shimmeringly lyrical. De Luca's other works include three translations from the Hebrew Bible as well as five novels. Aug. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Memories of a father killed in World War II come to the surface in this dramatic short novel, set in the early 1950s on a small island near Capri. The narrator, a young man from the city, is spending the summer with his uncle, who is teaching him to fish. In his spare time, the young man enjoys a friendship with his older cousin Daniele and his circle of friends. This group includes Caia, a young orphaned woman with whom our narrator instantly falls in love. He discovers that she is Jewish and delights in sharing this secret with her. At times, he acts and speaks to her as her father did--as if he embodies her father's spirit. When German visitors on holiday sing the SS anthem in a restaurant where Caia and her friends are eating, she becomes angry and her secret is revealed. This beautifully written novel is De Luca's sixth and the first to be translated into English. Highly recommended for all public libraries.--Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Said to be a bestseller at home in Italy, the first of De Luca's fiction to be published here is the touchingly simple tale, 1950s-set, of a Neapolitan boy who falls in love with a slightly older girl and finds she's a Holocaust survivor. The unnamed narrator spends his summers on an island where his uncle owns a seagoing fishing boat that's actually used and cared for by a fisherman named Nicola, who lives year-round on the island. Most summers, the boy is content simply to go out with Nicola to set nets and draw them in, learning all he can of craft and courage from the taciturn but kindly Nicola—including how to be stoical when he's bitten in the hand by a moray, and how not to be afraid when caught in a storm. This summer, though, the boy has a newly consuming interest in the still-recent war, and only Nicola will talk with him about it—just as only Nicola, who was sent as a soldier to Yugoslavia, knows that the new girl, an orphan, who's just visiting for the summer is really not named Caia, but instead Chaie, a name meaning "life." Fiercely angry at first at his having discovered her secret, Chaie soon softens, growing as fond of the boy as he is of her—especially as his gestures remind her of those of her Tateh, her dead father, even to the point of his kissing her just as her father did, gently, right at the hairline. One night a group of drunk German tourists sing SS hymns and Chaie becomes unhinged; a fight ensues—but then all seems over. Chaie will soon go back to boarding school, her life as normal as it can be. But a deep memory-force is left behind in the boy, who is compelled—somehow—to find vengeance on behalf of Chaie and her lost family.An understated, delicate—and believable—story of adolescence, history, and war.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780880016780
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/1/1999
  • Pages: 118
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.75 (d)

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