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Hok Talk: The Walls of Lucca Part 1

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The first in a series of posts where we can discuss Steve Physioc’s 2018 historical fiction novel.

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Los Angeles Angels
Royals announcer and published author, Steve Physioc.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

You may or may not recall that the Royals broadcaster Steve Physioc wrote a book that was published during the 2017/2018 off-season called The Walls of Lucca. It’s a historical fiction novel, taking place in Italy during the period of World War I. Physioc came up with the idea while visiting the real-life location and performed a lot of research in order to make sure his story was as historically accurate as possible. It follows a farming family and others in the working class as they try to navigate the situations the conflict puts them in.

I wanted to write a review of the novel last year, but it turns out that as much as I wanted to write a review I also didn’t have the time to dedicate to reading an entire novel quickly enough to make it feasible. Then spring training was upon us and other stories seemed more important. This off-season seems likely to be relatively free of Royals news and I came up with the idea that since reading the entire thing for a single article was too much I could do something closer to a reading group and go over it a few chapters at a time.

So on Monday, I tweeted that we’d be discussing the prologue and first two chapters this week. And that’s exactly what we’ll do. Don’t worry if you haven’t read it, yet. I’ll summarize a bit before sharing my thoughts. Hopefully, at least a few of you have read it and will also share your thoughts in the comments below.

Dramatis Personae

Isabella Roselli - A 20-year-old orphan woman (as of 1914) living at the Blessings Convent in Lucca. She earns the love of her fellow sisters with her ability to grow gardens and cook delicious meals despite the fact that she doesn’t believe their interpretations of God or enjoy the convent’s rituals.

Sister Anna - Isabella’s friend, another nun of the convent.

Bernardini Carollo - A sturdy man, runs works on a vineyard in Puglia, Italy. Husband and father to two sons. Strict Catholic.

Maria Carollo - Wife to Bernardini. May be more perceptive than her husband.

Benny Carollo - Bernardini’s oldest son. 20 years old (as of 1914). Strong, loyal, dependable. Similar to his father.

Franco Carollo - Bernardini’s youngest son. 18 years old (as of 1914). Questions everything. Similar to his mother. Slow, deliberate, contemplative.

Summary

The prologue basically outlines Isabella’s background and character.

The first chapter outlines the Carollo family’s circumstances and relationships. Franco leaves home to seek work in the city because the farm is not making enough money to support his family. At least, that’s the first reason he gives. Benny feels like he should enlist in the Italian army to defend his country during the war he anticipates. But Franco believes he can keep his brother safe and at home by leaving. He doesn’t think Benny would leave their parents alone.

The second chapter expands on what the prologue told us about Isabella. There’s more about her amazing gardening and cooking skills and some light-hearted banter with Sister Anna. She also flirts with a local chef.

Thoughts

There’s not a whole lot going on in these first few chapters, but that’s normal as the story tries to set up the characters, world, and location with exposition. This story takes a great deal of pleasure in detailing various bits of minor trivia about the names of the locations which would probably impress me a lot more if I had any idea where any of those places were. It’s obvious that Physioc did a lot of research about locations in preparation for writing this novel.

The narrative made sure to point out that Isabella is often known by the nickname “Bella” which means “beautiful” in Italian; so even though her appearance isn’t described it’s probably safe to assume she’s a looker. I’m anticipating a meetup between Franco and Bella, probably a meet-cute to be more specific. I’d anticipate it being relatively quickly the two are about as far apart as they can be and both be in Italy; Puglia is apparently in the “heel” of the boot that Italy is shaped in and Lucca is nearer the “cuff” so it may not be for a while.

Despite the fact that not much of note has happened yet I have to give Physioc credit, his prose flows very smoothly and keeps my eyes moving even if the story, so far, has not. The characters are also sharply defined even if some of it was done a bit ham-handedly, so it’s nice to know what kind of people we’re dealing with.

One thing of particular note to me is the moment when Bernardini slaps Franco for asking too many questions. It’s not played as if its a tremendously horrific abusive act, but it’s not something he feels good about doing, either. The most peculiar thing to me is that Bernardini hits one of his children for the first time when his 18-year-old son, who has always been known for asking too many questions, asks more questions. Difficult questions, to be sure, but also legitimate ones. I’m curious to see if this is an event that will shape their relationship going forward or if it will be forgotten.

Finally, Maria’s observations about her children are kind of slid in their quickly but give us an alternate perspective on her children. Bernardini considers Benny to be a man who doggedly pushes through a task until its done while Franco is someone who he considers a bit flighty and is easily distracted. But Maria sees Benny as someone who does things sloppily in his rush to get them done while Franco uses careful attention to detail to do his work well and also to clean up after his brother. It will be interesting to see how the brotherly relationship may grow over time and also to find out which of the parents is right about their kids, or if it’s both.

Next week

My plan is to read chapters 3-5 next week. We’ll see three different locations during those chapters and push into late 1915 at the end. I am looking forward to see how the story evolves from the foundation laid out by these first two chapters and prologue and I hope you are, too!