Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mark's Christmas Book

“A Bell for Adano”
My Christmas shopping went from park, to neutral and is now revved up to first gear. I don’t know if it’s all the negative economy news or what, but this year I had trouble getting out of the garage – until it snowed. That really jump-started my engine! As you might suspect, everyone in our family gets a new book for Christmas. The book I found for Mark is one that he will absolutely love. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 so it’s very well-written. It is set in Italy and has a cast of great characters. I admit to being more of a plot reader but Mark loves stories filled with unforgettable people. And “A Bell for Adano” by John Hersey is packed with colorful characters you hate to say goodbye to at the end of a book.

Major Joppolo has been assigned to preside over the small Sicilian village of Adano at the end of World War II. He is an Italian-American from the Bronx whose parents came from Florence. A far-from-perfect man, he tries to administer justice to the long oppressed villagers and treat them with fairness and compassion. Although “Mister Major” is the authority figure, he is soon loved as much as he is respected.

His supporting cast of characters includes a few American soldiers who represent the good and bad in occupation forces. The author says in his forward: “There were probably not any really bad men …but there were some stupid ones. You see, the theories about administering occupied territories all turned out to be just theories…” One sub plot involves a general issuing the ridiculous order that carts must stay off the roadways when his car is stopped by one. After shooting the poor cart man’s mule, he sends out his decree. Major Joppolo soon countermands it as the villagers cannot get food or water without the carts! All through the book the report of the countermanded orders travels from post to post as army clerks try to misdirect it away from the general by hiding it under stacks of paperwork or by even sending it in the mail pouch to Algiers.

The most unforgettable characters are of course the villagers of Adano. Some are somewhat stereotypical portraits but they are all entertaining and thought provoking. When the old mayor stumbles back into town after he hid in the nearby hills as his town was invaded, a crowd of townspeople gathers to jeer at him. The cruel mayor had ruled with an iron fist for nine corruption filled years. Major Joppolo sentences him to come every morning for repentance. Each day he must admit publicly to the various crimes of fines unjustly levied, false imprisonment and worse as the people mock him.

Major Joppolo’s crowning achievement was to be finding a bell for Adano. When he first arrived, town officials listed the many needs for the people. They were starving, they had lost family members but what was even more devastating was the loss of their beloved bell. The bell told them when to eat, when to pray, when to marry. Adano’s bell had been confiscated by the Fascists at the beginning of the war and sent to a munitions factory to be melted down to make cannons. Joppolo represents what one good, humble man can do under pressure. A best seller as soon as it was published in the 1940’s; it is still a great book filled with the richness of humanity and valuable lessons for all generations.

*Don't worry, Mark doesn't read this very often. Thanks Alyssa for finding this book and knowing dad would love it (I did too).

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