Dino’s Story, A Novel of 1960s Tuscany
By Paul Salsini
Having lived in Tuscany (although not in Florence) the summer & early fall of 1966 and having fond memories of harvesting grapes during the day and sitting around the dinner table at Il Mullinaccio Della Strega trying to follow several conversations in Italian and two kinds of English (British and American) I looked forward to this book with eager anticipation and it did not disappoint. I was, as I had hoped to be, transported to Italy in the sixties.
The book opens with the leisurely pace and cadence of the small Tuscan village of Sant Antonio and lays the foundation for Dino’s journey from boyhood to manhood. The pace picks up when he moves to Florence to study art and at the end moves along at the same fast and furious pace as the torrential rains and flooding Arno River. In this way the story builds in intensity like a symphony.
Dino (short for Aldebrandino) is at the hub of several heartwrenching stories. It is his task to find a long missing uncle but when he does he wants to shelter his mother from the sad truth of the man’s alcoholic and impoverished life. He meets an urban priest who does his best to help the poor of the city, working at a soup kitchen and providing shelter and inspiring Dino to want to do the same. Dino can’t decide whether or not to mail letters he writes to a young girl back home who also writes and hides letters to him. He tries to understand other young women he meets in Florence. He discovers that in addition to his talent for painting he has a talent for music. He works various jobs and thereby meets a future friend and mentor with his own mysterious story, a gentle giant of a football player who is the beloved of a wealthy, oft married and widowed principessa who hosts “salons” for working people as well as sophisticated art collectors in her palazzo promptly at 7:38pm (a reason is rumored).
All the characters, no matter how brief their sojourn in these pages, have complex background stories that explain so much about them. This is masterful writing. And even better the book serves an important social function in its graphic description of how the poorest of the city are affected by natural disaster. It is very timely given the recent floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes that have similarly destroyed the lives of the poorest residents where these disasters have occurred. In the wake of the flood, Dino and his friend Tomasso Nozzoli come up with a plan that will help a lot of people in a lot of ways. Were Paul Salsini to run for a place in city gov’t I’d want to vote for him. Meantime, I recommend Dino’s Story to lots of readers whether you are interested in Italy, the 60s, music, art, love, politics or all of the above.
Sandra Shwayder Sanchez
author of Stillbird and Three Novellas, A Mile in These Shoes