A dark secret born out of World War II lies at the heart of a Sicilian American family in this emotional and sweeping saga of guilt, revenge, and, ultimately, redemption.
After soldiers vacate the Sicilian hillside town of Melilli in the summer of 1943, the locals celebrate, giving thanks to their patron saint, Sebastian. Amid the revelry, all it takes is one fateful moment for the destiny of nine-year-old Salvatore Vassallo to change forever. When his twin brothers are killed playing with an unexploded mortar shell, Salvatore’s faith is destroyed. As the family unravels, and fear ignites among their neighbors that the Vassallo name is cursed, one tragedy begets another.
Desperate to escape this haunting legacy, Salvatore accepts the help of an Italian soldier with fascist ties who ushers him and his sister, Nella, into a new beginning in America. In Middletown, Connecticut, in the immigrant neighborhood known as Little Melilli, these three struggle to build new lives for themselves. But a dangerous choice to keep their secrets hidden erupts in violence decades later. When Salvatore loses his inquisitive American-born son, David, they all learn too late the price sons pay for their fathers’ wars.
Written with elegiac prose, How Fires End delves into the secret wars of men; the sins they cannot bury; and a life lived in fear of who will reveal them, who will survive them, and who will forgive them.
How Fires End by Italian-American writer, Marco Rafalà exceeded my expectations. The novel is written in the first-person point of view from three different characters, spanning three generations, who are linked by both familial and fate-encountered ties. The tragedies that follow them broke my heart and were a great reminder of the importance of family (blood family and chosen family) and of speaking and living in truth.
Resentment, guilt, vendettas, religion, love, and the power secrets and lies have abound as some of the main themes throughout the three sections of the book.
I personally enjoy books where I can relate to certain themes, and religion played such an immense part of this novel, much like it does in most Italian-American families (still today). Religious patrons in Italy are such a crucial aspect of their culture and Rafalà captured that beautifully, weaving it into the heart of the narrative. Basically everything that happens, the tragedies as well as the joyous moments, relate back to this.
The writing itself is easy to follow and the prose superb. I especially enjoyed the Italian words and phrases included throughout the story—even the curse words—since they gave the narrative depth into the characters’ personalities and frustrations.
I usually include a favorite character in my reviews, and for this one choosing just one was difficult. I’d say Enzo and Salvatore were the most heartbreaking storylines, which, for me, immediately places those characters high up in my favorites category.
My recommendations: if you enjoy historical fiction, WWII fiction, coming of age novels, and literary fiction, this book is for you. Also, if you enjoy learning about different cultures and languages, pick this one up. You won’t regret it!
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