The Hunger Saint
In The Hunger Saint, Cerrone has opened a window to the past, giving a glimpse of the harsh conditions of yesteryear. For decades, sulfur mining was part and parcel of Sicily’s economy. For much of that time, it was not uncommon to have children as young as ten working in the mines. Ntoni is no exception. In the years following the devastating Second World War, Ntoni’s father is lost in a mine accident. In order to help his poor family, he is contracted to a soccorso morto loan and sent to the nearby Miniera Cozzo Disi to work, the same mine that took his father.
Ntoni is a caruso, one of a number of boys who haul ore back to the surface and to the purification furnaces. It is grueling work that will eventually warp and twist the growing, failed bodies of the boys. Form follows function, after all. Being somewhat religious, Ntoni is mocked for keeping a picture of St. Calogero, the “Hunger Saint.” He hasn’t yet become jaded and cynical.
Ntoni’s only friend is Zui Peppi, the mine’s mechanic. Peppi was friends with Ntoni’s father and had plans to get him to a French mine, where the pay was better. This offer is passed to Ntoni, but before it can be enacted an accident sends Peppi away. Ntoni continues to labor in the harsh conditions until further family tragedy offers him the opportunity to be free of the mine.
Well-researched, The Hunger Saint is a snapshot out of time, a picture of the desperate struggle to survive in a post-war world. It is a gritty world (no pun intended), where young boys are set to work in atrocious conditions, and where the specter of Death is a constant companion. I love historical fiction and history in general. This book was a great read in and of itself, really bringing the truth of the harsh conditions to life. It was also a great bonding read for my SO and I. Jonas has ancestors a few generations back who were Sicilian miners from Lercara Friddi. We enjoy sharing our reading and discussing it. That was enjoyable, even if the topic was decidedly not. A pronunciation guide is suggested. Especially for Ntoni’s name itself! That’s not a typical consonant cluster in English.
Recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction or who have an interest in Sicilian and/or mining history.
Olivia Kate Cerrone