When I returned to my birthplace in Southern Italy for the first time in 1972, the little Calabrian town of Pedivigliano was attempting to raise enough money from its residents as well as ex-pats in America to restore its Medieval church (top, right). It was not going well. Eventually, though, the project was completed to almost everyone’s satisfaction.
Not so in the novel Restoration, which was based on some of the stories I heard while revisiting Pedivigliano as well as tales told by my parents and many other Calabrese I’ve known in America.
One of the recurring themes of those stories was that of old timers like my Grandfathers Stefano Costanzo and Felice Barbiero (right, center) who had traveled to America a number of times only to return in the end to their beloved Calabria. This, even after they had persuaded relatives, including their own children, to join them in the Land of Opportunity. Why, then, did they go home? Restoration attempts to answer this question through the eyes of one of those children who begins to wonder why he was ever taken away to America in the first place.
The novel also offers a vivid portrayal of the culture and landscape of Calabria, which are unlike any other in Italy. But that, too, is undergoing a rapid transformation as prosperity and the homogeneity of globalization erode these unique corners of the world. As the protagonist of the novel discovers, attempting to restore the past as one might a Medieval church is a fool’s errand.
Restoration is dedicated to my parents, Rita Barbiero and Massimo Costanzo (bottom, right), who, like so many before them, believed that the future of their children lay far away from home.
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