The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke
The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burkeis a hilarious and memorable first novel about youth and passion, family and community, miracles and violence and baseball. This moving love story, also a richly imagined chapter of Toronto history, begins on a summer afternoon in 1933, when Lucio Burke knocks a great ungainly bird out of the Toronto sky with a single perfect throw of a baseball. Thus it is that Lucio, a careful seventeen-year-old whose father died the night he was born, is drawn out of himself and into a complicated world. "Lucio Burke, there's more to you than you think." That same night, beautiful Ruthie Nodelman, "Ruthie the Commie," asks Lucio out on a date. Ruthie is gorgeous, committed and convinced that both love and the Revolution are just around the corner. She and Lucio have been neighbours on Beverley Street for as long as they can remember: the Burkes live between the Nodelmans and the Diamonds in three adjoining houses. Lucio was born on the same day as Dubie Diamond (and Lucio's cousin Dante), indeed, on the same kitchen table. But this summer everything between them changes. Desperate to do something to change the world, Ruthie is organizing a walkout of garment workers on Spadina Avenue, a wildcat strike into which Lucio finds himself enlisted. All around the city is in fervour, with new immigrants -- whether Jewish, Italian or Chinese -- dreaming of and working their way to a brand new life, and coming into sometimes violent collision with the city's older, established British and Protestant cliques. Along with labour unrest, there's also a new kind of anti-Semitism on the rise, inspired by the example of the new Führer in Nazi Germany, as well as Italy's Il Duce. Ruthie and Lucio's romance blossoms, with Ruthie very much taking the reins; and as they fall more deeply for each other we discover the complex web of family and chance that brought them together: from Abe Nodelman's past as a union organizer, to Lucio's father's courtship of Francesca; from Lucio's grandmother's long journey from Italy to Toronto, accompanied by a statue of her village's patron saint, to the invention of the knock-knock joke in New Jersey. The book's vivid description of family life, with all its profound love and equally profound eccentricity, is gently humorous but also very moving; it is a portrait of community amidst diversity, another way of living in a city bubbling with ethnic and political tension. "If not for Dubie Diamond cutting off his index finger a week later, the two very well might have lived happily ever after." Pitching Greenstein's Remarkable Knives at his father's stand at the St. Lawrence Market, Dubie Diamond catches sight of Ruthie smiling at him, cuts off his finger, and tells Ruthie he loves her. After the accident--which he says, afterwards, may have been no accident -- the newly aggressive Dubie takes Lucio as his competitor in a Darwinian struggle for Ruthie. The tension between Ruthie and Lucio rises when, later, Lucio finds Dubie trying to set fire to the kitchen table on which they were both born. Covering up for Dubie, Lucio stands Ruthie up; inadvertently, he also triggers a series of events that will become known as the Beverley Street Miracle. Lucio fights the new distance that has opened between himself and Ruthie while being tracked by an assiduous Irish priest who is investigating the "miracle." Then, with the city rocked by fighting between Jews and the Swastika Club, he finds himself on the mound as pitcher in what will become most infamous baseball game in Canadian history: the riot at Christie Pits. Events there bring
Toronto : A.A. Knopf Canada, 2005.
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