Just after World War II, a young orphan living in Naples comes under the protection of Don Gaetano, the superintendent of an apartment building. He is a generous man and is very attached to the boy, telling him about the war and the liberation of the city by the Neapolitans. He teaches him to play cards, shows him how to do odd jobs for the tenants, and even initiates him into the world of sex by sending him one evening to a widow who lives in the building. But Don Gaetano possesses another gift as well: he knows how to read people's thoughts and guesses correctly that his young friend is haunted by the image of a girl he noticed by chance behind a window during a soccer match. Years later, when the girl returns, the orphan will need Don Gaetano's help more than ever.
The unnamed narrator of this slim, alluring novel recalls a summer spent at age sixteen on an idyllic Italian island off the coast of Naples in the 1950s, where he spends his days with Nicola, a local fisherman. The narrator falls in love with Caia, who shares with him that she's Jewish, saved by Italian soldiers from the Nazis, who killed the rest of her Yugoslav family. The boy demands answers about the war from the adults around him, but is rebuffed by everyone but Nicola, who tells him of Italy's complicity with the Nazis. His passion for Caia and his ardent patriotism lead him to a flamboyant, cataclysmic act of destruction that brings his tale to an end.
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