The Children’s Train

HarperVia. Jan. 2021. 304p. ISBN 9780062940506. $27.99; pap. ISBN 9780062940513. $16.99. F
Amerigo Speranza spends his days on the streets of Naples scrounging rags for his mother to sell. Food is scarce and poverty rife in post–World War II Italy, especially in the south, until charitable Communists organize a train to take the children north and place them with families who can feed and clothe them. Thus begins a life lived in two worlds, with Amerigo feeling out of place in both. Is he a violinist who eventually travels the world giving concerts, or a child of the slums living off his wits? It is a dichotomy that never resolves, making it impossible for him to feel at home with anyone or anything, until his mother dies and he revisits his childhood home. Ardone’s beautifully crafted story explores the meaning of identity and belonging, but readers may be disoriented by the break between the child Amerigo and the middle-aged man, a disruption that leaves one longing for more development to connect the two and an ending that is less rushed and unconvincing after the exquisitely slow and atmospheric buildup at the beginning.
VERDICT Ardone’s first English-language translation is recommended to fans of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and for libraries where those are popular.
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