Tommaso has escaped discovery for thirty years but a young private investigator, Will, has tracked him down. Tommaso asks him to pretend never to have found him. To persuade Will, Tommaso recounts the story of his life and his great love. In the process, he comes to recognise his true role in the events which unfolded, and the legacy of unresolved grief. Now he’s being presented with a second chance – but is he ready to pay the price it exacts? That Summer In Puglia is a tale of love, loss, the perils of self-deception and the power of compassion. Puglia offers an ideal setting: its layers of history are integral to the story, itself an excavation of a man’s past; Tommaso’s increasingly vivid memories of its sensuous colours, aromas and tastes, and of how it felt to love and be loved, eventually transform the discomforting tone with which he at first tries to keep Will and painful truths at a distance. This remarkable debut combines a gripping plot and perceptive insights into human nature with delicate lyricism.
That Summer In Puglia is available in paperback now. You can purchase your copy here.
And here is the display case with the coin casts. Only five remain. One crumbled on my journey to the UK. Two more shattered a year later, when a nosy flatmate dropped the case from the chest of drawers on which it lay. With time they’ve all become so brittle. Recently one more broke between my fingers. I’ve wept, on my knees, for every one I’ve lost.
But you’re anxious to discover what happened to my father. As you’ll have perceived by now, life would have taken a completely different turn, with him by my side. The coin casts I’ve just shown you were there – witnesses as well as players – in the final act you’re so impatient to reach. I’ll never forget the last conversation my father and I had about them. It took place during the drive to Brindisi to collect the ninth piece. I remember almost every word of it – soon you’ll see why.
‘I’m so happy that you really appreciate those casts, Tommaso,’ my father said. ‘Monetary and personal value can be such different things.’ He glanced at me in the passenger’s seat before re-focusing on the litoranea, the coastal road, straight ahead.
‘I know. I know,’ I said with all the certainty of a ten year old. My hands, on my lap, gripped the display case containing the casts. Showing them to Damiano was the least I could do – he would be pleased to see them treasured.
Olive groves, vineyards, fig trees, oleander hedges, tall blackberry bushes and the monumental paddles of prickly pears flashed past us. New leaves were sprouting on vine stumps and fig trees, while cream and pink buds peppered the oleanders. The four o’clock sunshine swathed the fields with a crispness like silk that in Puglia is peculiar to early April. I wondered what had been the same and what had differed when anonymous travellers had journeyed on the Via Traiana, with in their purses denarii like the one whose cast I was about to collect, as I plastered my nose to the window of our blue Alfetta.
‘Quite a range of periods you’ve got there.’ My father flicked his head towards the plaster casts.
‘I chose coins that looked as different as possible from each other.’
‘Funny. D’you know what? If children everywhere did the same – from Cairo to Canberra – the world might be a more peaceful place. Everyone’s a mixture, so a notion of all the bloods mingling in our veins, and of the roller coaster of history, might do some good.’
‘Silly Daddy.’ I mimicked the sing-song tone with which Mummy teased him whenever he surprised her with this kind of observation. ‘Going off on a tangent,’ she called it.
‘I’ll tell you what those coins of yours are whispering in my ear.’ His tone too was jokey, now. ‘Your high cheekbones are a gift from a shepherd from southern Illyria who settled here – today they’d call him Albanian and try to repatriate him. Your left eyebrow was definitely drawn by a young Greek bride – she used her finest black make-up powder, I can tell.’
‘Oh, Daddy…’ I rolled my eyes and laughed.
‘Wait, I have it all on good authority.’ He put on an air of mock solemnity. ‘Your forehead was the gift of a Roman miles who got his nastiest scars in the war against the great-great-grandchildren of your Greek great-great-etc-grandmother. The wife of a Byzantine soldier-turned-merchant drew your right eyebrow, and a brilliant job she made of it, too – she wasn’t going to be outdone by her Greek rival.’
‘And my coins are whispering all this?’
‘Of course. There’s one for an ancestor of almost every origin.’
‘Ok. But tell the remaining ones that there have been too many soldiers so far.’
‘Well, what do you expect? I’ll see what I can do, but this region was a battleground. To be a porta d’Oriente, a gateway to the East, might sound poetic, but to those who happened to live here it was often a curse.’ He recovered his breath before continuing – his chest heaved and relaxed again. ‘You owe your blue eyes to a Norman – a soldier at first, I’m afraid, but a peaceable landowner later. A handsome Arab, maker of damascened shields in Lucera, passed on to you his raven-black hair. That fine nose is from an Anjou young man destined for the priesthood malgré soi just by dint of being the youngest son – not all too keen on the vow of chastity, but can you blame him in the circumstances? And finally, to your smooth, light-amber skin: your bequest from a penniless Andalusian bard brought over by a Spanish governor to lighten the load of his foul posting to a malaria-infested Apulian town. How am I doing? That should make eight coins.’
‘Bravo. That was funny.’
His lips formed a wide smile which showed up the dimple in his right cheek.
About The Author:
Valeria Vescina is from Puglia, was educated in Switzerland and the UK, and has lived for years in London with her family. After a successful career in management, she gained an MA in Creative & Life Writing at Goldsmiths (University of London). That Summer In Puglia is her debut novel. Her activity as a critic includes reviews for Seen And Heard International, Talking Humanities and the European Literature Network. She has taught creative writing workshops on the narrative potential of various art forms. Valeria also holds a degree in International Studies (University of Birmingham) and a Sloan Msc. in Management (London Business School).
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