The Hunger Saint
The Hunger Saint by Olivia Kate Cerrone tells the story of a young boy’s struggle and the agonizing work he was forced to endure in the sulfur mines of Sicily in 1948. During the years after the Second World War, it was common practice for young children to work in these awful places in return for a loan paid to the family. There was no choice; it was a case of survival. Ntoni finds himself forced into a life of toil and darkness after his father is killed in the mines and his labor is the only way his poverty-stricken family can survive. Such was the fate of many in Sicily at this time.
Ntoni struggles each day, forced to work in the darkness and sulfur-laden air, his life and that of the other youngsters, as well as those of the miners, constantly threatened by landslides and explosions. The Hunger Saint follows the young boy’s daily struggles and paints a realistic, thought-provoking picture of forced labor during the early post-war years in Sicily. When Ntoni’s young brother is recruited to the workforce, Ntoni tries unsuccessfully to dissuade his mother from allowing it. Ntoni then finds himself resenting his mother, endlessly putting his life at risk, toiling at unimaginable labor, and then trying to protect his young brother.
A series of events leads to Ntoni having the opportunity to leave the life he hates, but he has a monumental decision to make to enable him to do so.
This novella includes so much detail of the horrors of the sulfur mines that it was extremely distressing to read, which is an indication of the powerful writing by Olivia Cerrone. Clearly the subject has been well researched, which gives authenticity to the work. Personally, I would have liked to see the work broken into chapters for ease of reading. The cover is appropriate and, while not striking, conveys the subject matter appropriately. This is a story that is very moving, and, while not an easy read, it is certainly memorable.
READ Jane Finch’s interview with Olivia Cerrone.
Olivia Kate Cerrone