BY LIBARY THING REVIEWER Amy Romanczuk
- The Virgin Knows by Christine Palamidessi Moore
First off, any book that has a picture of Madonna and child on the cover, gets points with me. I immediately looked up the artist (Pietro Perugino) and the current location (Galleria Borghese, Rome) so that I could do a little armchair travelling and art appreciation. That done, I settled into the book.
It is an entertaining and interesting world Moore has placed between the covers of her novel. Though the pace was occasionally uneven, it was highly entertaining. The number of topics covered is slightly amazing: twin stuff, “mom always liked you best”, post WWII Italy, nursing (the image of a psychic OR nurse really made me smile), translocation, immigration, the old country, conspiracy, art theft, Roman Catholicism, men’s views of women, women’s views of men, love– as I said it was broad.
The title of the book is a nice play on words. While Alicia, the quinticential spinster/virgin knows all (though some of it is through psychic ability, it washer brother Carlos who did find and pocket a fragment of the Virgin Mary’s nose, when the Pietà was damaged in 1972. The Virgin Knows — The Nose Knows. Who knows? Throughout the book I found other use of words as descriptors that delighted me: “Renato had a shiny reputation”, the description of a throbbing head as a “red” sound. Or the teasing of immigrants bungling language. Or simple observations, that really are so profound )”If you stay awake too often, you lose your dreams.)
There is a sub-plot of art theft and recovery, but ultimately, this is a story about many things: sibiling loyalty, passion, nurturing, devotion. Of separation, grief, abandonment and berievement. Of discovery, rediscovery and explorations Of relationships and generations caring for each other (I was particularly touched by Alicia’s caring for her aging mother, and recognition of role reversal there “She was not only my mother, but also my daughter and my friend.” I am envious that she never lost patience. That’s hard to do. Trust me on that.) Of redemption, faith and the belief in family. What the Virgin knows, is ultimately about love.
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This robust, operatic, transatlantic thriller lurches from ribald farce to paranormal phenomena. “As with García Márquez…the fantastic…is commonplace. A knowing look, a charming book.” —RICHARD ELMAN
“Palamidessi Moore writes lively prose that often startles and entrances with otherworldly sensibility. There are deliciously funny bits such as a scene where two men discuss whether or not to let lobsters have the elastic bands taken off their claws before they’re boiled. ‘I say let them die free,’ one says. ‘They will die happy and their meat will be sweeter.’” —PULP Magazine
“The magical world Moore conjures up has the enchanting quality of a fairy tale.” —Virginia Quarterly Review
“This art theft thriller combines earthy faith, sly comedy and magic realism with one of the most enchanting heroines since Tita of Like Water for Chocolate.” —NIAF News
“… the heroine’s malignant magic works for the novel on a subtle, psychologically credible level.”—Boston Sunday Herald
“Moore acts as a writer and sculptress. She chips away at our heroine and her sometimes comical story until Alicia emerges polished and magnificent…” —San Antonio Current
“What begins as a conventional good twin/bad twin, or anyway prodigal twin Italian tale develops into a witty transatlantic thriller controlled by the extrasensory skills and the gradual accumulating extraordinary nerve of the girl twin, Alicia.” —Bostonia
“Whatever generation of Italian descent you may ( or may not) be, or, if you’re just a quarter Italian (like me) with warm memories of parents and grandparents telling stories of the old country, the North End, and childhoods back home, you are sure to enjoy Christine Palamidessi Moore’s wonderful first novel.” —Kate’s Mystery Books News
“… the story soars, takes off in unpredictable directions; one might add romantic, melodramatic, and, oh yeah–erotic. At times it feels like “The Godfather” meets “Twin Peaks” (or a little “Blue Velvet” and ”Pulp Fiction” anyone?) The novel thrives on surprise.” — Cumberland Sunday Times
“Magical things happen to everyone in the book…The plot twist and turns in true Italian fashion a la Machiavelli.” —The Martha’s Vineyard Times
“The Virgin Knows combines earthy faith, sly comedy and magic realism with one of the most enchanting heroines since Tita of Like Water for Chocolate.” –L’Italo-Americano
“….fresh and strong.” —Library Review
“Moore neatly dissects the core myths of Italian peasant Catholic culture, which she neither romanticizes nor condemns out of hand.
Her serious willingness to entertain such arcane notions allows her to achieve the high comic effects of this clever debut.” —Kirkus Review
“Loss of innocence, personal and sexual, is the theme of this offbeat, beautifully written first novel which lurches from ribald farce to paranormal phenomena…..moving and compulsively readable.” — Publisher’s Weekly
“Writing in a style as clear as watercolor painting, Moore mixes fantasy, religion and superstition with fully rounded characters and an amusing plot that moves from Lazlo Toth’s destruction of the Pietà to the Farm in Tennessee.” —The Pittsburgh Post Gazette
“Her work is fun, poetic, and well plotted, and that’s hard to come by.” —Valley Daily News
Alicia Barzini, an OR nurse stuck at home in Subiaco, Italy, uses her extrasensory power to spy on her brother and his exciting new life in Boston’s North End. What starts out a story about sibling rivalry quickly evolves into an exciting transatlantic thriller involving Vatican smuggling, opera, lost virginity, murder, loyalty and love.
What kicks off the chase? Alicia’s twin brother, Carlo happens to be visiting Rome in 1972 when Lazlo Toth climbs over a guardrail in St. Peter’s, onto Michelangelo’s Pietà and batters a the statue with a hammer. Carlo picks up a fragment of the statue’s nose and sneaks out of the basilica. In doing so he inadvertently connects the Vatican’s coffers to Boston’s prestigious museums.
The story twists and turns through back alleys, hospital rooms, funeral supply stores and subway stops. Alicia helps Carlo out of the mess,but not until after he’s filled his pockets with money.
If you enjoy well-plotted books, move this one to the top of your list.