In a tiny Italian village, life in the 1950s is a daily pageant of small human dramas. There are lippy signoras and earthy farmworkers. There is a coffin-maker, a silkworm farmer and those who catch frogs for the town’s local delicacy: frog risotto. And then there’s Pistola, a teenage boy in love with his second cousin Teresa, a girl who is sadly destined to marry the village thug.
To escape his heartache, young Pistola accepts the offer of a lifetime: to travel to South Africa to work on the trains. In lively Johannesburg, he and a group of compatriots are trained as stewards and taught to speak English – and Afrikaans. It’s not all work, mind you. The Italians set up home in Hillbrow and go partying in Sophiatown with the likes of Miriam Makeba. When Pistola falls for the spunky Malikah, a political activist, the apartheid police watch every breath of their passionate, illicit relationship.
Flash forward a few years, when Pistola, no longer the gauche village boy, must return home to make a decision that will define his future.
Witty, affectionate and vivid, this coming-of-age novel pays homage to the 110 young Italian men who were recruited to work on the South African Railways and introduced Italian cuisine to the nation.