The Day Before Happiness Hardcover – Nov 1 2011
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“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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
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.
"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.
We went downstairs where no one would reach us. Anna followed, resting a hand on my neck. A force came from her body that moved the air.
The kiss was violent, the grip on my neck squeezed me. At the bottom of the steps, I set the candle down on the ground, she took care of the bed. I watched her moving. Rather than acting, she gave orders to things and they carried them out. She unrolled the first sheet in the air and it spread out over the mattress immediately and only had to be tucked in. The same with the second one and the blanket. She came close and started to undress me. My jacket was already off, the buttons of my shirt opened by themselves under her touch, she slipped it off me with a swift move that set both me and the flame swaying. She placed her ear on my taut chest, hollowed to the ribs, she squeezed my hips with her hands, I couldn’t breathe.
“Slow down, Anna, you’re crushing me.”
“Quiet, I’m listening to your blood fill with oxygen.”
Nothing else is worth re-reading.