Reviewed by Ian Thomas Shaw
There is no tale of love more beautiful than that told through the
eyes of a child. Connie Guzzo-McParland has penned just such a tale with her debut novel, The Girls of Piazza d'Amore. Set in the early 1950s, ten-year-old Caterina relates the romances of the teenage girls in the small Calabrian village of Mulirena. As a girl too young for her own romance, Caterina is recruited by the older girls, Lucia, Tina and Aurore, to chaperone them on their evening passegiate to the town's fountain. During these evening strolls, the girls endeavour to inflame the hearts of their admirers with stolen glances and sultry sways. Caterina is the custodian of the older girls' secrets and those of their fiancés, and paramours. For in a society where young men cannot openly court young women, Caterina gladly extorts gifts of candy to pass on messages from the boys to the girls. No clandestine encounter escapes her innocent but observant eye. Flirtation soon leads to commitment, and dreams are formed. But as Caterina and her mother and brother patiently wait for their visas to join the rest of the family in Canada, disaster unfolds for Caterina's older friends. One by one, the village boys shatter the girls' hopes by breaking off their engagements. In the end, Caterina and her family leave their Calabrian paradise for Montreal. There the memories of Mulirena will give way to the mundane efforts to live new lives in a new land. The older girls, their innocence now lost, will also join Caterina's family and the other villagers in Canada, and will content themselves with marriages to men whose passion falls short of their Calabrian suitors. And Mulirena, inhabited only by a few ageing villagers, will fade away from their memories. The beauty of Guzzo-McParland's writing lies not only in her exceptionally flowing prose, but in the enchanting portrayal of the traditions and social mores of rural Italy. The Girls of Piazza d'Amore is an extremely visual novel and an epicurean delight. It richly depicts mountainous terrain and stone architecture while replete with mouth-watering descriptions of prosciutto, provolone cheese, gelato and millefiore pastry. The author's characters are deliberately not multi-dimensional—instead they are rich in their simplicity, naivety and unadulterated emotion, all which speaks to the allure of youth. The Girls of Piazza d'Amore has established Guzzo-McParland as one of Montreal's most exciting new writers. The Girls of Piazza D'Amore is published by Linda Leith Publishing.