I picked up this novel at a book sale last year having been attracted to it because of its setting in Tuscany. However, I became slightly dubious when I picked it off the bookshelf recently and realised that it was a withdrawn library book that had never been borrowed. Well, all I can say is that those City of Sydney Library borrowers missed out on a really great read; I loved it!
Santo Fico is a tiny, forgotten village in Tuscany. Leo Pizzola has recently returned there after spending 20 years in America - he can't wait to leave again, but has no money. As a child he used to show visiting tourists a brilliant fresco in the church (a quite lucrative occupation). Serendipitously, shortly after his return a busload of lost tourists turn up in the town and he reprises his role. Soon, other tourists start to detour to Santo Fico to see the fresco and Leo is making money fast. Unfortunately a severe earthquake hits, partially destroying the church and in the chaos Leo, and his old childhood friend Topo strip the fresco off the wall and hide it.
The resident parish priest is Father Elio, a very disheartened fellow because most of his flock seem to have abandoned their faith, is so distressed by the disappearance of the fresco that he has a crisis of faith. He believes God is punishing him for something (we are not told what until later in the novel). He decides to do penance by fasting. His niece Marta observed Leo and Topo stealing the picture and tells them she will go to the police unless they produce a miracle that restores her Uncle's faith (and stops him fasting himself to death). Leo and Topo are forced to orchestrate a series of man-made miracles, each more botched than the last, but the end results are miraculous:
"His life stretched out before him and for the first time he realised it had all been a miracle - everything - every day - every accident - every coincidence - every disappointment - every joy - all of it"
This is a beautiful novel. The author D.L. Smith has done a truly sterling job.