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justice_turtle ([personal profile] justice_turtle) wrote in [community profile] readallthenewberys2013-07-02 12:20 am

Newbery Honor: The Boy Who Was (Grace Taber Hallock), Part 1

I have another interlibrary loan in -- the last but one of the 1920s Newberys. :D This is called The Boy Who Was, and I know nothing about it except that I'm fairly sure it's not a predecessor to the Harry Potter series. *g*

(This concludes your Harry Potter jokes for this liveblog, as I've never actually read those books.)

* It's an old book. Deckled pages, much-repaired binding, water-damaged corners, one of those cardboard covers with the sort of embossed-paper surface that I associate with an elderly edition of Heidi I had as a kid.

* The endpapers depict "The Town in Italy Where the Boy Lived", so we have a setting. The detailed aerial ink-sketch view of the town shows us, among other things, an early motor-car puffing up from "The Road to the Sea", so it's near-contemporary? And on or near the coast, though in Italy that's not saying a whole lot: if you aren't actually up in the Alps or (to a lesser extent) the Apennines, you probably have a local road "to the sea".

* The title page has a sticker commemorating the in-memoriam gift of this book to a library in 1977, so either it was in print as of that date and my sense of books' oldnesses is all off (not inconceivable), or it had a lot of adventures before that point.

* Grace Taber Hallock has also written a book called Petersham's Hill - so the next page informs me.

* Yeah, the copyright page says "First Edition", so this is an elderly book that had a lot of adventures before settling into a library system in its old age.

* Er. The frontispiece shows a very-definitely-not-contemporary boy - with no other information, I'd call him a Greek goatherd of Classical times. At least, there are goats in the background, a Greek-key frame around the picture, and he's wearing one of those one-shouldered goatskin tunics that indicate a Historical Goatherd to me. I suppose he might be an Italian goatherd.

* And there seems to be some kind of historical theme in the table of contents. Greeks, Romans, Goths, Normans, and Crusaders appear in quick succession, between a few less-dated entries each at the beginning and end. Huh.

* The list of illustrations is almost identical to the table of contents. O_O

* Okay, I'm pulling out my world atlas here, since I don't have a large-scale map of Italy. The author tells us "these stories" are set on the Sorrento peninsula, which "sticks its tongue out at" the island of Capri. All I know about Capri is that the Emperor Tiberius had a villa there, and all I know about Sorrento is that the human family in The Cricket in Times Square are Italian immigrants originally from there. I also learned from Cricket in Times Square that Sorrento overlooks the Bay of Naples, but since I don't know where Naples is, I'm no better off. ;-)

* Okay! If Italy is a thigh-boot with Rome, halfway down the left side, being somewhere around the knee, Naples and all these associated places are about halfway down the boot's shinbone. The Bay of Naples is fairly small compared to the whole of Italy - the very toe or heel-tip of Italy's "boot" would not fit in it - but compared to our cities and towns here it's a nice big bay, about eight miles across, almost square, with islands trailing like ellipses off the ends of both the peninsulas that form its sides. Capri is one of these islands, off the tip of the southern peninsula, while Sorrento sits in a sheltered little cove on the north side of the same peninsula, not far from its tip. The bay's open side faces southwest; Mount Vesuvius is at the back or northeast end of the bay, while Naples is at the north corner.

* One more location of interest, at least to me, is the town of Pozzuoli not far from Naples. This was where the Romans discovered and mined pozzolana, a volcanic rock whose chemical properties allowed them to make a form of concrete from it which would harden underwater. This allowed them to build strong docks and bridge-footings without having to drain every area where they wanted to put a structure.

* Back to our book! Here in the prologue, it's Corpus Christi Sunday, 1927. (The book tells us only that this is the Sunday after Trinity Sunday; I'll add that it generally falls sometime in June.) I give up on figuring out this book's chronology, till I get some more data.

* Ooh, more places. An artist has climbed up to Ravello from Amalfi this morning - we get details about Amalfi, it's a "little town ... which sits like a bather on the shore of the Mediterranean dabbling her white feet in the transparent water". Okay then. *g* we do not get an actual location for Amalfi relevant to Sorrento or anywhere else I mentioned yet. To Google Maps!

* Okay, let's see if this link works: Route from Amalfi to Ravello by road. It's about a mile and a half as the crow flies, but Google Maps indicates about 2.6 miles (4.2 km) on foot. Our artist has gone up by "a staircase of stones".

* Haha, this next passage is a truly wonderful description of the stagger-stacked way that houses sit on the sides of the mountains above the sea in this area. I've seen photographs of Capri, and this is exactly right.

* Then there's a colorful, detailed, brisk description of the farmland our artist is passing through, and then a description of the town of Ravello, built on the flat at the top of a cliff. There is a fountain in the town square from which our artist stops to drink.

* This is some really good artistic description, in my opinion - full of bright colors and well-selected detail, neither confusingly sparse nor cloying. We hear about the Corpus Christi procession which has just left the church, and then about the church itself.

* Ah, and we seem to have found our title character. In the church is an old woman whom the author describes as "making", quote marks original, the Stations of the Cross -- which is perfectly accurate terminology, I just find it hard both to describe accurately and to explain to people who may not be familiar with that particular form of prayer. (I have no idea how well-known it is outside of Catholicism.) Basically, most Catholic churches have a row of fourteen images hung on their walls depicting traditional moments in the Passion of Christ - running from the time he is condemned to death to the time he's placed in the tomb - and the process of walking down the row with a stop to pray and meditate on each image is known as "making the Stations of the Cross".

* As I was saying, an old woman is making the Stations, and a young boy dressed in goatskin tunic and thonged leather sandals is reading the prayers to her at each station. Our artist notes in a tone of mild surprise that "the boy's skin was the color of honey, of the texture and tint that is sometimes found in old marbles which have lain a long time in the earth". I don't even know. Isn't that... kind of a common color and appearance for young Mediterranean people? It's phrased like something Important and Foreshadowy.

* The artist speaks to the boy and old woman outside the church after they finish their prayers -- ah, I see, the old woman is blind, not illiterate like I'd assumed.

* The artist asks if he may draw the boy, who agrees to bring the artist to his mountainside cabin after he takes old Lucia home. And yes, the boy is indeed a goatherd. His name is Nino, which - does that mean "Boy" in Italian the way it does (with a tilde) in Spanish?

* Various baby-name sites are claiming it means "God is gracious". Ooo...kay; I don't see the derivation at all, so I'm not relying on that, but okay. It can also be a nickname for any of several diminutive names like Giannino (Johnny), Antonino (Tony/Anthony), etc.

* Mmm...kay, this is getting odder and odder. The artist looks at the church's bronze doors, cast in 1179, and thinks to himself that they have seen many things; Nino turns up while he's thinking this and answers his thoughts aloud, "Yes, Signor, they have seen many things. Shall we go?" And then we're informed that Nino looks at this moment like a little stepson of Pan, as if he's "played with the sirens and talked to the gods of Greece and Rome". Clearly I'm supposed to be taking something from this, but what?

* ...ooh. It's contemporary-as-of-1927 Italy, right? The public square is crowded with people, including: "The black shirts of the Fascisti were everywhere adding shadows to the bright-hued festival crowds." I wonder if that's a political statement or just an artistic one? *checks my history* Okay, Mussolini is currently ruler of Italy, and his Blackshirts - first of the various groups known by that colloquial name - have been the established Italian police force since 1922. I can't find any biographical information on Grace Taber Hallock - she doesn't even have a Wiki page - so I can't tell what she thought of the Italian Fascist party, but the next sentence after the Blackshirts is talking about the street-urchins begging pasta and chestnuts from the food booths. I don't know, it seems structurally interesting to pair those two things.

* More description of the townspeople as the artist and Nino walk through the crowd, and then we're out on the hillside. We head uphill through fields of flowers and along a cliff to the open space where Nino's little cottage stands.

* Detailed description of the cottage's interior. The artist notices some little carved wood figures on the table and asks about them, but Nino blushes and avoids the question by suggesting that he should drive his goats to pasture and he can pose for the artist there.

* Nino lets his dog start driving the goats while he packs bread and cheese into a "wallet" -- and he puts the wooden figures in too, "looking at the artist slily as he did so to see if he had noticed". I have no idea what is happening here! Does Nino want to keep the figures away from the artist or have them handy to talk about later? Has he carved them himself, or is there some other reason he's secretive about them? I am deeply confused.

* Anyway, the whole group including the goats head to the very top of Mount Cetara... which isn't listed on Google Maps, because apparently Cetara is a town in the area which lies at the foot of this mountain, called variously Mount Falesio, Falerio, or Falerzio by various (badly-spelled?) wobsites. ;P

* Okay, Mount Falerzio is the spelling which has tourist information attached to it. This is apparently the highest mountain on the Amalfi coast, a bit east from Ravello, and has a celebrated hermitage built near its top whose location closely matches the description of the view from Nino's cottage. I wonder if Ms Hallock had participated in the festival described at that last link, which would have taken place two weeks before the setting of our story, and decided to turn it into a secluded fairytale location?

* We hear again that Nino's skin is like tawny honey, and again this is paired with an impression of extreme age: "He looked as if he had always been sitting there, and as if he would sit there forever and ever."

* Oof, I'm on page 10. I'm not exactly bored, but this is a lot of long work, googling all these things and putting together ideas. RESEARCH.

And it is Monday (ish - it was Monday twenty minutes ago? ;P), so I post.