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The Day Before Happiness [Hardcover]

Erri De Luca , Michael Moore

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Book Description

Nov. 1 2011
Just after World War II, a young orphan living in Naples comes under the protection of Don Gaetano, the superintendent of an apartment building. He is a generous man and is very attached to the boy, telling him about the war and the liberation of the city by the Neapolitans. He teaches him to play cards, shows him how to do odd jobs for the tenants, and even initiates him into the world of sex by sending him one evening to a widow who lives in the building. But Don Gaetano possesses another gift as well: he knows how to read people’s thoughts and guesses correctly that his young friend is haunted by the image of a girl he noticed by chance behind a window during a soccer match. Years later, when the girl returns, the orphan will need Don Gaetano’s help more than ever.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press (Nov. 1 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590514815
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590514818
  • Product Dimensions: 20.3 x 13.4 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #219,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

“High hopes in clear language, cautions against real evil, and scenes thick with poetic sentiment - these elements fuel the warmth to be found in De Luca's brief but affecting novels.” —The National

“Tender, lyrical without apology, and intensely moving.” —Library Journal

“Full of steadfast and simple charm… while still being steadfastly aware of the larger histories that are always playing out in the backgrounds of whatever it is that charms us in a momentary idyll.” —Bookslut

The Day Before Happiness is an innovatively told post-World War II thriller set in Naples. An orphan boy’s past is revealed to him in this lyrical book, and postwar Italy is arrestingly captured in these pages…One of the most moving books I have read all year.” —David Gutowski, Largeheartedboy.com
 
“A lyrical narrative about a thorny search for happiness.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The only true first-rate writer that the new millennium has given us for now.” –Corriere della Serra

“The story of a risky happiness, the happiness of a city in revolt, of a violent and rediscovered love.” —Avvenire
 
“A hymn to life, to the Resistance, to education.” —L’Alsace

About the Author

Erri De Luca was born in Naples in 1950 and today lives in the countryside near Rome. He is the author of several novels, including God’s Mountain and Three Horses (Other Press). He taught himself Hebrew and translated several books of the Bible into Italian. He is the most widely read Italian author alive today as well as an international best seller.
 
 
Michael F. Moore is a New York–based translator and scholar whose previous translations
include God’s Mountain and Three Horses, both by Erri De Luca, and The Silence of the Body by Guido Ceronetti.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Man is a basin that collects stories - the lower he is, the more he receives." Nov. 13 2011
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
(4.5 stars) Described by Milan's daily newspaper Corriere della Serra as "the only true first-rate writer that the new millennium has given us for now," Erri De Luca writes a story of Naples, filling it with well-developed characters who live through three different time periods - 1943, as Naples has its popular uprising against their German occupiers; the early 1950s, when the unnamed narrator, a young orphan of about seven, is growing up; and the early 1960s, when the young man is now finishing school and about to set out on his own. The novel moves back and forth in time, as the author writes an often lyrical novel full of noble sentiments and wise observations, at the same time that it is packed with details about life and behavior.

The young orphan grows up in the early 1950s without any real supervision, living in a back room belonging to Don Gaetano, the doorman of an apartment building. As a child soccer player famous for his monkey-like ability to retrieve the ball when it goes awry, he discovers a secret passageway into a grotto behind a statue. Lovely descriptive passages make the depths of the city, its sponge-like tufo substratum, and its coolness come alive, and when the boy discovers some books there, he also discovers a whole new world of reading. Another time, he also sees a beautiful young girl through the upstairs window, and she haunts his life, even after she disappears.

The author uses numerous flashbacks to describe wartime life in September, 1943, and as Don Gaetano emphasizes the lessons he has learned through this and other experiences, he creates a kind of daily catechism of his own, declaring: "The worst things happen under sunny skies. When the weather is bad, a person prefers to postpone an evil deed." and "A writer has to be smaller than the subject he is describing. You have to sense the story running away from him every which way, and him capturing only a part of it." The author reveals information slowly, always showing Don Gaetano's concern for the boy, and when the boy is seventeen or eighteen, the beautiful Anna, about whom he has dreamt for years, returns, and their meeting becomes the final dramatic step in his coming-of-age.

De Luca provides much information in few words, selecting perfect details, rather than numerous details, which elevate the novel. The observation that the day before happiness (when bad things often happen) is even more important than the happiness which follows; that Christianity is like a belt around the world; that heirs get rid of the books accumulated by the dead in order to exorcise their ghosts; and that Naples is "Spanish" (and anarchistic) in tone and is located in Italy "by mistake," all suggest much more than they actually say, a wonderful change from the overly specific and self-conscious style of much modern writing. Intense in its imagery and emotion, this novel reflects the universal longings of the main character as he grows on his own. Exciting on the level of theme and style, it is hard to imagine any reader not responding to the young orphan with empathy and warmth as he learns to understand people and to "read their thoughts." Mary Whipple
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Reading Experience Dec 7 2011
By Robert H. Webb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"The Day Before Happiness" is a delightful read about a throwaway boy just after WW II and how he grows up with the insightful help of a local 'fix-it' man. The translation does not obscure the regional nature of Naples with all of its charm and tradgedy shortly after the liberation by the Americans. It is streaked throughout with hopefulness and an expectation of happiness just on the horizon. I donated this book to the local Library to help them expand in this time of severe budget constraints.I bought this book from Amazon and am pleased I did !
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Lyrical Tale Dec 5 2011
By Man of La Book - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Day Before Hap­pi­ness by Erri De Luca is a fic­tional novel which takes place in the early 1950s. The story uses flash­backs to wartime Italy.

Don Gae­tano, the super­in­ten­dent of an apart­ment build­ing in Naples, is pro­tect­ing a young orphan after World War II. Don Gae­tano is a gen­er­ous man and gets attached to the young man telling him about the war and the lib­er­a­tion of the city by its inhabitants.

Don Gae­tano can also read people's thoughts and is aware that his young guest is haunted by the mem­o­ries of a girl he met, who is Jew­ish yet still afraid to show her true self. Years later, when the girl returns, the young man must face his own demons.

The Day Before Hap­pi­ness by Erri De Luca is a won­der­fully sug­ges­tive book, which mince on words but not on details, select­ing the per­fect ones instead of spew­ing them off hop­ing to get one right. This is a char­ac­ter and image dri­ven book which cap­tures the souls of its narrator.

The prose is very lyri­cal in this tale of the search for hap­pi­ness and whether one will find it or not. Don Gae­tano, the father fig­ure of the orphan nar­ra­tor, is known to be able to read people's thoughts. Whether he does have such a mag­i­cal abil­ity or is sim­ply an obser­vant, warm and under­stand­ing human being is one of the mys­ter­ies of the book.

The author's obser­va­tions are thought com­pelling and provoca­tive. Mr. De Luca makes poignant obser­va­tions which are both smart and expansive.

"[The Jews]are a belt around the waist of the world. With the holy book we are the leather strip that has been hold­ing up the trousers ever since Adam real­ized he was naked. Many times the world has wanted to take the belt off and throw it away. It feels too tight."

It is obvi­ous that Mr. De Luca does not think of peo­ple as num­bers. The author actu­ally states that he doesn't use the word "peo­ple" but "per­sons - I found that to be very pro­found. When you treat peo­ple like sheep or cat­tle, they stop being human beings. When one stud­ies his­tory it is quite obvi­ous that the first step to geno­cide is to cre­ate a "herd" of peo­ple so the "sheep" you sent to do the killing won't think of them as individuals.

Even though this is not a long book, it is full with details about life in Naples, peo­ple behav­ior and well devel­oped char­ac­ters. The most inter­est­ing sto­ries, to me, were the pop­u­lar upris­ing of the per­sons of Napoli against the Ger­man occu­piers (knows as The Four Days of Naples/Quat­tro gior­nate di Napoli).

An intense book which gives a lot of credit to its read­ers believ­ing they are capa­ble of read­ing beyond the plot and between the lines. The book touches on many uni­ver­sal themes and does so with style and grace.

Disclaimer: I got this book for free.
3.0 out of 5 stars A Hard Read Feb. 7 2014
By APACHECAT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
DeLuca has a strange writing style that I found difficulty with. I found myself re-reading passages that seemed to be running every which way. The scenes of Naples WWII and post war captured the people and the city's struggle.The relationship with Gaetano and the orphan boy is touching and I enjoyed reading about it. The translators words were colorful, but sometimes left me blank. It's a book worth reading if you are prepared for it.
1.0 out of 5 stars Lacking April 4 2013
By Biblibio - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Put simply: "The Day Before Happiness" is a mess of a book. In under 150 pages, Erri De Luca (whose "God's Mountain" was quite good, in my mind) creates several characters as flatly as possible, has them interact in a strange and stiff manner, and then twists the story at the last minute. Clever writing? Not at all. The term is "lacking".

"The Day Before Happiness" starts out relatively strongly. At first, I was intrigued by the narrator, was curious about his life and his perspective. But the moment the dialogue kicked in, this short novel completely fell apart. De Luca has a rather distinctive, old-fashioned writing style. It's not for everyone. But where in "God's Mountain" the style felt like a nostalgic way to tell a story, in "The Day Before Happiness" it just felt like a slog. When simply setting a scene, the style works. When placed in the mouths of characters, it comes off as entirely stiff and unnatural. Much as I tried, I couldn't actually believe that these were real characters, speaking in this manner. There's no charm to the mincing of words - it feels uncomfortable and unrealistic.

To make matters worse, De Luca's characters are not worth much more than their dialogue. With the exception of the narrator (who intrigued me in a somewhat sideways manner), the characters felt entirely one-dimensional, to the point where within weeks of reading the novel, I could hardly remember their existence. I did not feel any sympathy towards the characters, nor interest in them or their lives. I saw no reason to continue reading their story or to delve deeper into their world. This wasn't helped by the somewhat obtrusive historical elements of the book, which though interesting, never really seemed to fit smoothly with the rest of the story (which itself ends abruptly and awkwardly, with a twist that I could neither understand nor could bring myself to care about).

I may be the exception. It might be that the edition of "The Day Before Happiness" I read (not the English translation) wasn't very good, and tainted the rest of the book for me. It might be that I was missing some kind of cultural or historical context to truly appreciate the novel. But either way - I didn't like it. I didn't like the unbelievable dialogue, I didn't like the characters who never seemed to even reach the shape of a flat drawing, I didn't like the odd pacing (which nearly led me to abandon the book midway through - at 100 pages), and I could find no justification for the ending. I know Erri De Luca can write a good novel with many of the elements he tried to use here - "God's Mountain" is similarly old-fashioned, similarly focused on a young mind (and young love), and similarly tells its story in a shorter style, but it does all of these significantly better. Whatever the reason may have been, I didn't like "The Day Before Happiness". I cannot recommend it.
ARRAY(0xb176d888)

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