Orani: My Father's Village
written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
2011 (Frances Foster Books)
Source: Mebane Public Library
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Claire A. Nivola's father was born in the village of Orani on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean. Later in life, he moved to America but his heart never left Orani. Constantino Nivola would often take his family to visit this village nestled in a valley. Upon arrival, the family was surrounded by relatives. As the author mentions in her note in the back of the book, Orani was a place where a child could experience everything that life could bring, both tragedies and joys, in a small place and among family and neighbors. Claire learned about life and death, seeing those who have just been born and those who have passed from this life. She enjoyed the best of nature with the cool of the mountain water and the luscious fruits that hung within reach. This group of cousins daily went throughout the village, visiting new mothers, eating ice cream at the cafe, and watching the miller and tailor hard at work. I remember living in a similarly small place where I could wander and visit. One sense I experienced while reading this book was the importance of food in the community. Families gathered around the table for conversation and good locally grown meals. This reminded me of Wednesday night suppers at my grandmother's house where she would have a big pot of soup and cornbread. A former colleague of mine from eastern North Carolina had a mother who would cook big Sunday dinners after church that gained notice from The New York Times. Orani celebrates how families can gather together and enjoy each other's company. I love the last page of the book. When Claire went back home to New York City, no one seemed to know about her Orani, but she is thoughtful enough to think that they too have an Orani of their own. I was reminded of my own Orani in western North Carolina.
This is a beautiful book that is an excellent model of a personal narrative. It reminds me of 2010's I Know Here which is another wonderful memoir of a special place in a child's memory. I also thought of Cynthia Rylant's The Relatives Came. Orani is one of those special books that takes us back to a different time and place which only exists in our memories and hearts.