3 out of 4 stars
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Travelling from Scotland, Giovanni Bartolomeo hopes to start a new life in his father's ancestral village in the tranquil setting of rural Italy. Giovanni's family history is anything but tranquil, however. Giovanni's sister, Lucrezia, was murdered by rampaging soldiers during the war and, due to the manner of her death, Lucrezia is being considered as a possible case for beatification. After spending time studying at a seminary, Giovanni takes up the role of parish priest at Collaquila, an impoverished village in the mountains.
All goes well until Giovanni comes to blows with Raffaele Staffieri, a local resident who has also spent time in Scotland, and who had clashed with Giovanni's father during the war. Enter Father Fiachre Fahy from Ireland, tasked by the Cardinal to investigate whether Lucrezia is worthy of being put forward for canonisation.
The Greatest Treason by Fiorentino Ferri is beautifully told. The language is rich, colourful and textured. In one scene, we bump into a herd of tintinnabulating goats as our hero Giovanni enters the village of Collaquila. Elsewhere, we meet a monk described as smelling of onions and mothballs. However, my favourite scene in the book revolves around a celebratory dinner party; its description is an absolute triumph of storytelling. We can see the huge banqueting table with legs that are a source of sustenance to woodworm and local gossips. We can hear the garrulous guests conversing about the quality of the wine being served and we can almost taste the mounds of gnocchi as they are being brought to the table. Furthermore, we are made privy to the thoughts of tactile pleasures on the minds of some of the less scrupled guests.
I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. While I appreciated the beauty of the descriptions, I would have enjoyed the book more with the benefit of a family tree. It was challenging to follow the links between the various families and to decipher the trail of their historical connections. The intricacies of Catholic catechism posed yet another barrier to clarity. On a more basic level, my lack of familiarity with Italian names may have been another reason for my inability to follow what was happening. Whatever the reason, I had to focus quite diligently in order not to lose the thread of the plot. There are also a few too many grammatical errors for the book to warrant a four star rating.
This book will appeal to readers of historical fiction. It will also appeal to people who enjoy reading stories about different cultures and religions. It is not a light read, but it is certainly worthwhile for those wishing to put in the effort.
The Greatest Treason
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