Wasteland Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-60047-922-9 (paperback)
A genuine saga, Rita D’Orazio’s second novel, Katerina, spans over 38 years and details the ups and downs of life in an affluent family of strong Italian heritage. The plot is interesting, but what makes this novel a page turner are the realistic characters, the international setting, and the authentic family issues D’Orazio depicts with undeniable authority.
We meet the heroine and first person narrator, Katerina, at the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary concert. The frame is very appropriate: lifelong surfer and Beach Boys fan, Katerina is also 50. Waiting for the concert to begin, she recounts the past 38 years of her life. The transition to flashback is seamless, and we find ourselves vicariously reliving 12-year-old Katerina’s experiences as she and others in her family learn about her mother’s indiscretion and try to cope with it. From this point on, the Balducci family wades through nearly four tumultuous, emotionally filled decades, led by an iron strong, forgiving patriarch, who manages to keep the clan together through good and bad. The changes in geographical and emotional scenery are breathtaking and remain exciting to the last page.
The author shows particular expertise in portraying the complicated, often painful, and never predictable mother-daughter relationship, especially when it is burdened with old-world traditions and general, deep-seeded European guilt. Growing up in Europe myself, D’Orazio’s insight hit home, I am sure by no coincidence, and I wonder how much of this book is autobiographical.
Beyond close family ties, the author explores many other potentially disastrous, or at least anxiety inducing human relationships, including facing an old love after marriage, being pregnant before wedlock in a traditional family, or the good old “your Papa might not be your biological father” issue. Regardless of how the characters live through all this, the reader will be the winner. D’Orazio manages to make even the lowest moments in life glamorous. No matter if they are in Vegas, Italy, California, or Hawaii, you want to be one of the Balduccis.
Like all decent family sagas, the plot of Katerina is full of surprises. The diverse international setting, the eclectic, emotionally charged characters, and the variety of issues discussed will satisfy a wide range of readers.
And when you think you figured it all out, D’Orazio throws another curve at you. I’m not going to be the one to put the timeline puzzle together, but be prepared for a mind-blowing revelation on the last pages. Farfetched? Yes, by all means. But is not that the definition of a good story?