Leo comes back to sell off the run-down family farm on the Italian coast of Tuscany, hoping for enough to finance his return to Chicago. He is plagued by memories. A tour bus is lured into Santo Fico--by ruse or by accident--and once the British visitors are safely ensconced in the hotel restaurant, Leo and his old friend Topo launch into the lucrative scam that they invented as boys: storytelling to "sell" a viewing of treasures inside the local church.

The "miracle" is the stump of an ancient fig tree that once sheltered St Francis; and the "mystery" a luminous fresco by an anonymous artist, possibly Giotto. Leo is encouraged by his dramatic success. But in the night, an earthquake severely damages the church. Yielding to temptation, Leo "saves" the fresco by stealing it in large chunks and hiding it under his bed. Surely now he will have enough money to escape.

The old priest is grievously saddened and goes on a hunger strike to expiate his own sins, on which he blames the desecration. The priest is cared for by his niece, Marta. Embittered by her late husband's infidelity and early death, she frets over her two daughters: one dutiful but blind; the other healthy but headstrong. Marta already resents Leo for some transgression in their past; rightly guessing his crime, she demands that he "make a miracle" for the priest.

Topo and Leo invent several, ambitious but preposterous scenarios, each of which flops spectacularly. The priest good-naturedly overlooks (or fails to see) their transparent ploys; yet he manages to perceive miracles everywhere else in the everyday atmosphere of his beloved village. Of course, Leo returns the fresco, of course he stays, and of course he finds love with Marta after all.


A filmic yarn of home-coming and identity, reminiscent of Louis de Bernière's novel, Corelli's Mandolin, or the movie, "Il Postino," and ripe for a Fellini to pluck it for a film. The author is a playwright and professor of Theater Arts at Southern Oregon University; this is his first novel. The happy ending is not sugary, but warmly clever and satisfying. Affectionate portrayals of the homely folk, as they lust after love, sex, wealth, and freedom, emphasize both kindness and duplicity as twin aspects of human nature.

The themes of blindness and sight weave throughout this visually rich novel; neither trait is wholly good nor bad, and both are vested with didactic power. Almost every character has been deceiving someone else--even if it is only herself--and often with the best of intentions.

Similarly, the villagers are chronically given to spying on each other, and consequently leaping to erroneous conclusions despite generous attempts not to be judgmental. When they dare to communicate--to reveal and to see--across perceptual boundaries, miracles really do start to happen.



Place Published

New York



Page Count