Street Boysby Lorenzo Carcaterra
Naples, Italy, during four fateful days in the fall of 1943. The only people left in the shattered, bombed-out city are the lost, abandoned children whose only goal is to survive another day. None could imagine that they would become fearless fighters and the unlikeliest heroes of World War II. They are the warriors immortalized in Street Boys, Lorenzo/i>
Naples, Italy, during four fateful days in the fall of 1943. The only people left in the shattered, bombed-out city are the lost, abandoned children whose only goal is to survive another day. None could imagine that they would become fearless fighters and the unlikeliest heroes of World War II. They are the warriors immortalized in Street Boys, Lorenzo Carcaterra’s exhilarating new novel, a book that exceeds even his bestselling Sleepers as a riveting reading experience.
It’s late September. The war in Europe is almost won. Italy is leaderless, Mussolini already arrested by anti-Fascists. The German army has evacuated the city of Naples. Adults, even entire families, have been marched off to work camps or simply sent off to their deaths. Now, the German army is moving toward Naples to finish the job. Their chilling instructions are: If the city can’t belong to Hitler, it will belong to no one.
No one but children. Children who have been orphaned or hidden by parents in a last, defiant gesture against the Nazis. Children, some as young as ten years old, armed with just a handful of guns, unexploded bombs, and their own ingenuity. Children who are determined to take on the advancing enemy and save the city—or die trying.
There is Vincenzo Soldari, a sixteen-year-old history buff who is determined to make history by leading others with courage and self-confidence; Carlo Maldini, a middle-aged drunkard desperate to redeem himself by adding his experience to the raw exuberance of the young fighters; Nunzia Maldini, his nineteen-year-old daughter, who helps her father regain his self-respect— and loses her heart to an American G.I.; Corporal Steve Connors, a soldier sent out on reconnaissance, then cut off from his comrades—with no choice but to aid the street boys; Colonel Rudolph Van Klaus, the proud Nazi commander shamed by his own sadistic mission; and, of course, the dozens of young boys who use their few skills and great heart to try to save their city, their country, and themselves.
In its compassionate portrait of the rootless young, and its pitiless portrayal of the violence that is at once their world and their way out, Street Boys continues and deepens Lorenzo Carcaterra’s trademark themes. In its awesome scope and pure page-turning excitement, it stands as a stirring tribute to the underdog in us all—and as a singular addition to the novels about World War II.
- Random House Publishing Group
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- 4.21(w) x 6.87(h) x 0.97(d)
- Age Range:
- 14 - 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
45TH THUNDERBIRD INFANTRY DIVISION HEADQUARTERS SALERNO, ITALY.
SEPTEMBER 25, 1943
Captain Edward Anders leaned under the warm shade of a fig tree, a lit Lucky Strike hanging from his lips, and stared down at the beachhead below. His troops had been in the first wave of the attack to capture a city whose name he had never heard before the war. It took the combined forces of American and British troops nine days to advance past the beach and up the side of the sloping mountain where he now stood, smoking the last cigarette in his pack. Behind him, a command post had been set up inside a long series of brown tents. Inside the main tent, there were 3,500 sets of dog tags scattered in four wooden boxes, waiting to be mailed Stateside for eventual delivery to the relatives of the men who had been lost in a fight for sand and rock. Anders stared at the mountains above him, up toward Cassino, then back down toward the city of Naples, and knew there was still a lot of hard fighting left.
"Hey, Cap," a voice behind him said. "Word is you want to see me."
"It was more like an order," Captain Anders said. "But let's not stand on formalities."
Captain Anders turned to look at Corporal Steve Connors as he stood at attention and held his salute, the Gulf of Salerno at his back. Anders brushed away the salute. "From what I've seen, you have as little patience for that shit as I do. Which probably means neither one of us is going to get far in this army."
"I just want to get far enough to go home, Cap," Connors said.
"Will Naples do you in the meantime?" Anders asked.
"What's in Naples?"
"Most likely nothing. From the reports I've seen, the city's already nothing more than a ghost town."
"But still, you want me to go," Connors said.
He removed his helmet and wiped the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his uniform. Steve Connors was twenty-five years old, a college graduate and second-year law student from Covington, Kentucky, the first in his family to earn a degree of any kind. He was just shy of six feet tall with a middleweight fighter's rugged build, topped by thick strands of dark hair, brown eyes and a wide smile that balanced out a hard edge. He had fought under Anders's command for fourteen months, pounding and slashing his way from one blood-drenched beachhead to the next, always the first in line, always the first to fire. He had a street fighter's instincts for battle and survival and was, as far as Captain Ed Anders was concerned, the best soldier for the task at hand.
"It might just be a ghost town with two of our men in it," Anders said. "We had a handful of G.I.s helping the Italian resistanceor whatever the hell was left of it. Most of them slipped out before the evacuation. Two didn't. They could be dead. They could be hiding. They could be back in the States for all I know. But we've got to find out."
"I go in alone?" Connors asked.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Anders said.
"Very much, sir."
"I'd like a bowl of my wife's white bean soup," Anders said. "But that's not going to happen, either. You'll be part of a three-man team. You go in, as quiet as you can, check out the city and see if you can find our guys."
"Who else is on the team, sir?"
"If our soldiers are still in there, they might be hurt. So you'll take one of the medics, Willis. And then another good rifle to cover your back. That'll be Scott Taylor."
Connors winced at the sound of Taylor's name. "Every man out here has a rifle, sir," he said. "Not just Taylor."
"But not every man's going," Anders said, raising his voice. "Taylor is. I know you two rub each other the hard way, but this ain't the senior prom. If it gets tight, he's somebody good to have on your side. Neither one of you has to like it. You just have to do it."
"Yes, sir," Connors said. "Anything else I need to know?"
"Not a damn thing." Anders reached into the front flap of the younger soldier's shirt and pulled a loose cigarette from his open pack. "Just radio back what you see. We'll do the rest."
"And if we don't find our men?" Connors asked. "What then, Cap?"
"Enjoy your stay in Naples," Captain Anders said as he turned and headed back up to his command post.
16TH PANZER DIVISION HEADQUARTERS
FIFTEEN MILES OUTSIDE ROME, ITALY. SEPTEMBER 25, 1943
The eighty Mark IV tanks sat in long silent rows. German soldiers were scattered about, searching out shade and a cool place to doze. Colonel Rudolph Von Klaus stood in the open pit of his tank and stared at the note in his hands. The words on the paper had been passed down directly from Adolf Hitler himself. They were as simple and direct as any order he had received in his twenty-five-year military career. "Allow no stone in Naples to stand" was all it said.
To a precise and proud officer, the order read as nothing more than a complete wasteof a city once bold and beautiful, of a Panzer division that had fought too hard for too long to be reduced to a mop-up unit, and of time, of which there was precious little left before this wretched war would reach its ruinous conclusion. Naples had already been contained, its streets emptied. Aerial bombings had destroyed any buildings that could possibly be of future use to the enemy. It was a mission of madness. Just one more foolish request springing from the unhinged mind of a leader he found lacking in military logic.
Von Klaus folded the order into sections and shoved it into his pants pocket. He gazed around at his troops and took some comfort from the fact that as inane as the order was, its simplicity would at least guarantee that he would not have to leave behind any more of his men, lying dead or wounded on a battlefield. After the Naples mission, Von Klaus was scheduled to head back home, to a wife he had not seen in two years, a daughter who would now be eight and a son too young to remember the last time his father cradled him in his arms. Von Klaus was only forty-six years old, but felt decades past that. Nothing, he believed, aged a man more than having to face the reality of inevitable defeat.
"The tanks are repaired and fueled, sir." The young soldier stood several feet across from Von Klaus, half-hidden by the shadows of dangling tree limbs. He looked to be months removed from his teenage years.
"Good," Von Klaus said. "And the mules have been fed as well?"
"Yes, sir," the soldier said. "Earlier this morning."
"Check on them again tomorrow," Von Klaus told him. "Until then, enjoy this warm Italian sun."
"Sir, if I may, some of the men were wondering when we would be moving on," the soldier said.
"Do you have a girl back home that you care about, Kunnalt?" Von Klaus asked him.
"Yes, sir," Kunnalt said, surprised at the question. "We plan to marry once the war is over."
"Then go and find a large rock, sit down and write her a letter," Von Klaus said. "Make it a long one and take your time doing it. I'm in no rush to leave. The empty buildings of Naples will wait for us."
SEPTEMBER 25, 1943
Two hundred boys and girls were spread out around a large fire, the flames licking the thick, crusty wood, sending sparks and smoke into the star-lit sky. Their clothes were dirty and shredded at the sleeves and cuffs, shoes held together by cardboard and string. All their memories had been scarred by the frightful cries of war and the loss that always followed. The youngest members of the group, between five and seven years old, stood with their backs to the others, tossing small pebbles into the oil-soaked Bay of Naples. The rest, their tired faces filled with hunger and sadness, the glow from the fire illuminating their plight, huddled around Vincenzo and Franco. They were children without a future, marked for an unknown destiny.
Vincenzo stepped closer to the fire and glanced up at the sky, enjoying the rare evening silence. He looked down and smiled at two small boys, Giancarlo and Antonio, playing quietly by the edge of the pier, their thin legs dangling several feet above the water below. He glanced past them at a girl slowly making her way toward him, squeezing past a cluster of boys standing idle and silent. She was tall, about fifteen, with rich brown hair rolled up and buried under a cap two sizes too large. Her tan face was marred by streaks of soot and dirt. She stepped between Vincenzo and the two boys, her arms by her side, an angry look to her soft eyes.
"Where do we go from here?" she asked.
"The hills," Vincenzo said with a slight shrug. "It seems the safest place. At least for now."
"And after that?" she asked in a voice younger than her years.
"What's your name?" Vincenzo asked, the flames from the fire warming his face.
"Angela," she said. "I lived in Forcella with my family. Now I live there alone."
Forcella was the roughest neighborhood in Naples, a tight space of only a few blocks that historically had been the breeding ground for thieves and killers and the prime recruitment territory for the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia. "Forcella?" Vincenzo said to her. "Not even a Nazi would be brave enough to set foot on those streets."
"Especially after dark," Franco said, laughing.
"But they did," Angela said, lowering her eyes for a brief moment.
"What do you want me to do?" Vincenzo said. "Where do you think we should go? Look around you. This is all that's left of us."
"So we run," she said, words laced with sarcasm. "Like always."
Vincenzo stepped closer to her, his face red from both the fire and his rising anger. "There is nothing else to do," he said. "You can help us with some of the little ones. A lot of them are too sick to walk."
Angela glared at Vincenzo for several moments, lowered her head and then turned back into the mouth of the crowd.
Vincenzo walked in silence around the edges of the fire, the sounds of the crackling wood mixing with the murmurs of the gathered teens. They were all children forced to bear the burden of adults, surviving on the barest essentials, living like cornered animals in need of shelter and a home. They had been scattered throughout the city, gutter rats in soiled clothing, enduring the daily thrashings of a war started by strangers in uniforms who spoke of worlds to conquer.
They had been born under the reign of Benito Mussolini and his fascist regime. As the United States suffered through the pangs of a Great Depression, Italy lived under the warmth of economic prosperity. Its fields were flush with crops and its factories filled to capacity with products that brought the country headfirst into the modern age. Now, the fields were burned and barren, the factories bombed and bare. Where there was once hope, there now rested only hunger. Where once visions of great victories filled Italian hearts, there was now nothing more than the somber acceptance of a humiliating defeat.
"Naples has always been ruled by outsiders," Vincenzo said, stopping alongside Franco and tossing two more planks of old wood onto the fire. "We've always been someone's prisoner. But in all that time, the people have never surrendered the streets without a fight. This war, against this enemy, would be the first time that has ever happened."
"Who are we to stop it?" Franco said, staring into his friend's eyes.
Vincenzo stood in front of the flames, his shirt and arms stained with sweat, light gray smoke filling his lungs. He then turned and walked away, disappearing into the darkness of the Neapolitan night.
A HIGHWAY ROAD, TWENTY-FIVE MILES OUTSIDE OF SALERNO
SEPTEMBER 26, 1943
Steve Connors shifted gears on the jeep and eased it gently past a large hole in the dirt road and onto a long patch of brown grass. He killed the engine, grabbed a newspaper off the passenger seat and stepped out of the jeep. He lit a cigarette as he walked and folded a four-week-old edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer over to the sports section. He scanned past the headlines, searching for the baseball standings and the box scores.
"Why we stopping?" Scott Taylor asked, sitting in the front seat of the jeep. Taylor was twenty-four, a year younger than Connors. He was tall and muscular with short blond hair and pale skin that was quick to redden under the Italian sun, a high school football star back in his hometown of Pittsburgh. The two had known each other since basic training and shared a mutual respect for their respective battle skills and a dislike toward one another for almost everything else.
Connors flopped down under the shade of an old fig tree, leaning his head against its rugged bark. "Germans mine everything," he said. "A road leading into Naples is one they wouldn't miss. Which means we have to drive on grass. Which means before I start, I need a break."
"I don't need convincing," Willis, the medic, said, jumping out of the backseat of the jeep and walking toward Connors and the shade. Willis was still a teenager, even though he tried to act older. He was the only child of a single mother who worked as a schoolteacher back in Davenport, Iowa. Willis was slight, had thin brown hair and walked with a farmer's gait. He was a good medic and never panicked under the rush of battle. "Besides, you can only ride in these jeeps for so long. Makes your whole body numb."
"I'll wait here," Taylor said, stretching his legs out and lighting a cigarette.
"That's a good idea, Taylor," Connors said, his eyes still shut. "I'd hate to have some sheepherder come along and drive off with the jeep."
Connors tipped his helmet down across his face and allowed his mind to drift back to the many lazy afternoons he had spent across the river from Covington, sitting in the cheap seats at Crosley Field. With a youthful and still innocent exuberance, Connors would cheer the Cincinnati Reds to victory, savoring the win even more if it was brought about by the exploits of his favorite player, first baseman Frank McCormick.
Connors didn't have much nostalgia for home, other than the normal longing for family and familiar faces and places. But not even the brutal events of a war could diminish his love for baseball. He longed for a game that was at once so simple yet so strict with its traditions and its rules. He loved the finality that embraced the two teams at the completion of nine innings, only to see each one grasp a new beginning with the start of the very next game. He lifted his helmet and gazed out at his surroundings, craters and rubble dotting a landscape once rich with vineyards and villas, and knew that such simplicity never could be applied to the much harsher rules of war.
Meet the Author
Lorenzo Carcaterra is the author of Gangster, A Safe Place, and the New York Times bestsellers Sleepers and Apaches. He has written scripts for movies and television and is currently at work on his next novel.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Having been somewhat of a fan in the past, I thought I¿d get a bit of a lift out of Carcaterra¿s latest work. Unfortunately, the only lift out of this made-for-the-screen tripe is what Carcaterra replayed from earlier and vastly better renditions of the historic boys uprising in Naples over those four days in 1943. The opening says the locations and scenes are wholly new and created for ¿Street Boys,¿ but it was all done before in much better, truer, and heartfelt books. Try 'Four Days of Naples' for one. Not to mention, the Italians made a movie as well, and it was up for an Academy Award. Anyway, all I¿m trying to say here is that I was very disappointed in the book. The material deserves a much better focus and sincere author, someone who actually cares about the historic boys and not just a fat check for hacking out a paper-thin comic.
This book was fantastic. I have referred it to many of my friends who couldn't put it down either. The author is so vivid in telling the story, it's funny, happy, trying and sad. It has everything to make the perfect book. Great read.
This was one of the best books I have read. The deaths of the boys were sad but moving. The heart wrenching death of the young soldier's lover gives on swift kick to the reader. I recommend this book to all.
This story was incredible. I wouldn't refer to myself as the world's most avid reader, finding it difficult to find a book to keep my attention for too long. However, this book was suspense from first to last page. Full of stories of courage, bravery, and the will to fight, not necessarily to live. I found it ever so difficult to put it down. Not a dull moment.
The author (and the editor) were largely asleep on this one! The book is full of factual errors (e.g. the soldiers wore pith helmets, not steel, he uses the word 'chord' when he means cord, 'site' for sight, 'nozzle' for muzzle, 'hulk' for hull, 'whither' for wither, 'bellowed' for billowed, etc. etc., and the Italian street boys all speak English and have penicillin available in 1943)! At times the writing was interesting and even exciting, but it is too often awkward and 'over the top' as well. The only thing that really kept me going until the end was my curiosity to see what errors lay ahead!
This is just bad, bad writing. Unless you crave the bubble-gum fiction that you can buy in an airport, stay away from this one. The 'American/European Differences' cliche is worked to death in this book. I am amazed the editor let some of this be printed.
I enjoy Mr. Carcaterra's writing but this book left much to be desired. The basic premise was interedting, prompting me to buy. After a few pages, I realized that Mr. Carcaterra knows absolutely nothing about war or the military. Mr Carcaterra has Molotov Cocktails exploding and overturning tanks; all German soldiers carrying 'machine guns' and 8 to 14 year olds defeating a Nazi armoured division. I don't doubt that young boys fought against the Nazis in Naples but not with the devestation Mr Carcaterra created. Next time you write a military novel, call me and I will help.
I have not enjoyed a book like this for many years. What many people do not understand is the the "cliches" in this book are authentic. Carcaterra captures the Neapolitan persona in such a way that the whole story can almost be truthful. This book is a must
This book is a great read! I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in books on war. I liked the book myself but its not for everyone you really just have to try it and you might get into it or you might not.
Exciting read from start to finish. Visual, emotional and compassionate in spite of wartime violence. A wonderful book.
How much liberty should a fiction writer have over a true and heroic effort of history? Street Boys is an inventive tale of the events of those riveting four days, but why stray so far from the truth? Heroes of the past deserve a just tribute, and in this case the truth, perhaps, is far more gripping. There was no American star that taught these poor boys to fight, and moreover, the bravest of the boys who did were each awarded posthumous medals of Honor, an all empowering fact that Carcaterra seemingly overlooked in his fiction. Nonetheless, an entertaining read for a Carcaterra aficionado. An enthralling depiction closer to the truth can be found in the 1980 book and now audiocassette title "Four Days of Naples" or the 1963 Academy Award nominated film of the same name by Nanni Loy. It will be interesting to see if Carcaterra¿s 2002 tale receives as much acclaim.
Exciting and sad story of war between children of Naples, Italy and the Germans. Hard to put down and wonderful historic detail.
He claims this is a work of fiction (I'll say!), but also claims that his family related tales to him regarding their survival of WWII. He intersperses fact with fiction; this could allow the reader to get caught up in this nonsense and believe such drivel. In fact, the Allies were responsible for most of the bombings and destruction of Italy, but that wouldn't sell books, would it?? I can't get past page 69, so if anybody wants my copy, they can have it for free. (I gave this one star because there is no minus-star.)
In 1943 Italy, three GIs are sent to Naples to investigate the disappearance of two fellow Americans working with the resistance who failed to show up when the allies pulled out of the area. Corporal Steve Connors is separated from his two companions, but meets up with an underground army of two hundred orphans, whom are the only local occupants of the eerily deserted bombed out Naples. Steve and his new allies begin fighting the much more powerful German Panzer Division led by Colonel Von Klaus. The battle is intense as lives are lost on both sides. The outcome should be obvious, but is not possible for an army of children and an American law student turned Commando to hold back the mighty Nazi war machine, but at what cost and for how long? The action never slows down as STREET BOYS matches pace with the blitzkrieg of France. However, the characters including the hero, some of the resistance who kind of stand out in the crowd, and Von Klaus seem like one dimensional depictions of Captain America vs. the Red Skull. Still, fans of World War II action dramas will enjoy Lorenzo Carcaterra¿s tale, but wish the heroic Connors was developed as much as Lee-Kirby did Rogers. Harriet Klausner