Thursday 6 June 2024

Children of This Land by Serafina Crolla #ChildrenOfThisLand #SerafinaCrolla @LuathPress #BookReview


The moving and delightful story of the Valente family, although fiction, is grounded in first-hand knowledge of the way of life in Picinisco, southern Italy, in the post-war years. Poverty, separation and loss were common experiences that caused many to emigrate. Yet the hardships were more than balanced by a culture of family warmth and vitality, shared connection to the land and an intimate understanding of how to work it.

A born storyteller, Serafina Crolla was inspired to write Children of This Land when visiting the cemetery in her native village of Picinisco. There, she saw a headstone for ‘An exemplary mother of nineteen children’. She was deeply struck by the eloquent simplicity and poignancy of this memorial inscription. As the daughter of a shepherd, Serafina well understood the joys and hardships that life would have entailed for this family.

Through the vicissitudes of life, ties to this place hold strong for the Valentes. The nineteen children who make up the family tell their stories of love, marriage, trials and tribulations, loss and pain of immigration. Serafina’s own family emigrated to Scotland when she was a little girl but she returns to her homeland often, for, as she puts it: ‘A love for Picinisco as deep as the valleys and as pure as the snow-capped mountains is never forgotten.’

Children of This Land by Serafina Crolla was published on 30 November 2023 by Luath Press. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

This is an absolutely delightful book that transports the reader back to rural Italy, just after the Second World War. Whilst only a thin book at less than two hundred pages, it is packed with drama. The sights, sounds and smells of the family home, the surrounding countryside and the food preparation is a delight.

It is the story of the Valente family; Vincenzo and his wife Matilda and their sixteen remaining children. Yes, sixteen children! Matilda actually gave birth to nineteen babies, but three did not survive. This is a poor family, with little money but rich in love. They work the land, and every one of them has their own tasks to perform. Sometimes the children would rather not work the fields, or prepare the food, but they are a team, overseen by their parents and are totally aware of what needs to be done in order to survive. 

The family live in a small house, crammed into every available space, and this is shared with numerous grandparents too. The author relates the story of their background, how the family came to be and beautifully describes their everyday life too. 

We are introduced to neighbours, both richer and poorer and the sense of community and the willingness to always help out and repay a kindness with even the smallest of gift show the strength of these people. Hard working, loyal and loving.

Times are changing. Some of the Valente children want to move on. Some of them would like to marry and raise a family but see nothing for them in their small community except years of hard work and struggles, just like their parents. The reader follows them as they prepare to leave, we feel the heartbreak of Matilda as her children leave her. When the large dining table is replaced by a much smaller one, due to those who have left it feels so poignant.

There are some terrible times that the family have to endure. The author does not hold back and the reader will feel the pain of these characters that they have come to love and cheer for when things get a little darker. However, the strength of the family and their loyalty and love for each other holds them together. 

This is, quite simply, a wonderful little book. The author was inspired by a gravestone that she stumbled upon in an Italian cemetery that read 'an exemplary mother of nineteen children', from this one short sentence she has created a novel that is an utter delight. Filled to the brim with colourful characters and relating simpler times, but harder times. Highly recommended. 

SEREFINA CROLLA is a wife, mother and grandmother who lives between Edinburgh
and Val’ Comino in the province of Frosinone in Italy. 

Born in Picinisco in the foothills of the Abruzzii mountains, the daughter of a shepherd, she has lived an unusual life.

No comments:

Post a Comment