Finished March 16
The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka
This novel takes place in the village of San Benedetto on the Italian Riviera. Etto is twenty-two years old and unfocused in his life. Two years ago his twin brother died in an accident, and a year ago his mother died, perhaps accident, perhaps deliberate. He lives with his father and works in his father's butcher shop. His friends try to draw him out, but he resists them, participating socially only in the most perfunctory way. Etto's brother Luca was a soccer star, a sport known as calcio here, and was in the early stages of a promising professional career.
There is a strong tradition in San Benedetto of obsession with calcio, the men gather in bars and cafes to discuss the sport, arguing over teams, watching the games and getting passionate about who they support and their position on the scandals that arise. Etto's father Carlo doesn't have a regular favourite team, but he is loyal to a player, the Ukrainian Yuri Fils. So naturally, when Yuri is named in a scandal, Carlo defends him.
Etto often gravitates to the old calcio field near his high school, which was closed down the year before he graduated. Luca is buried in one of the goals of the field, and it is one of Etto's chores to keep the field mown, even though no one really uses it anymore. So he is surprised one day to find someone wanting to use it, and even more so when the users turn out to be Yuri Fils, his sister Zhuki, and the rest of Yuri's entourage. When Etto is drafted into playing with them, he finds another old habit awakened, his love of art, and begins a secret project that helps him to work through his feelings.
As first Etto's father and then the rest of the village discovers the presence of the famous calcio player, the village dynamics change, and Etto finds himself looking towards his future with purpose, honoring the tradition of his family and acknowledging the losses he must live with.
This is a story of grief, of families, of the support of a small community, and of the healing powers of both sport and art. Highly recommended.