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Posted: April 14, 2019

A novel worth the reader’s time

Book Review

By Derryll White

Criaco, Gioacchino (2008). Black Souls.

Gioacchino Criaco takes the reader into the black heart of Calabrian crime, the ‘Ndranghta,’ and charts the course of three very young men. Criaco was born into this story, a child of Africo, a remote mountain village and the poster town for Calabrian poverty. He presents the story in the voice of a nameless narrator who charts the journey of modern men born into a culture of peasant rebellion and violence.

Criaco takes time to illuminate the customs and culture of the Aspromonte denizens of Calabria. Removed from the mountains by politics, they take the time to keep old rituals alive and to reinforce the value these beliefs have to an essentially rural population. The stories within the story are truly wondrous. The author uses history like few others, letting myth and folktale infuse the whole with deep meaning and solemn perspective.

Some of the tale told echoes across time and distance, speaking to the fate of dispossessed people be they American Indian, Eskimo, African Bushmen or the Sami of Norway. Government can never afford to allow some to be totally free of the world the bureaucrats deem to be best.

‘Black Souls’ is indeed black as it expresses the conflict between the simple and the complex, the rich and the poor and the gulf between. It is a novel worth the reader’s time.

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Excerpts from the novel:

GANGSTERS – To feel secure, the bosses had to know everything. Every incident had a guilty party, not necessarily a responsible one, that was the rule, and the new affiliates had to report to the barracks before the blood from their initiation ceremony had dried on the blade that pierced their finger.

In short, the only dangerous malandrini were the bosses, who played with two decks of cards; they represented the anti-state while remaining at the service of someone who worked for the state.

MOUNTAIN PEOPLE – Shepherds hated comfort and modernity; they lived at the dawn of the world, without a care for the likes of Galileo, Leonardo, Marconi, The Savoys or the Bourbons, or even il Duce.

MIGRANTS – They called us the “children of the forest,” we descendants of the people who had inhabited the woods of the Calabrian massif for millennia, we who’d transformed it into a place of evil, we who’d given up the Aspromonte to conquer another world.

DEATH – “The ancients said the cows belong to the spirits of the woods. I’ve never experienced it myself, but I’ve seen shepherds as proud as you wake up in the morning destroyed, and watch the darkness fall with terror. We are a part of the mountains, not their masters. Sometimes protecting evil is necessary to survive. Taking a life is always wrong.

TIME – For my father and Bino, the concept of time was relative; they accepted very few of the scientific findings that modernity offered and none of its morals. Though they’d endured a period of chaos, they’d overcome it. They lived on what the mountains gave them.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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