Brigid Pasulka’s The Sun and Other Stars (2014)

Readers can debate whether Etto or soccer or the town of San Benedetto is the main character in The Sun and Other Stars: the novel can reach readers’ hearts via more than one route.

Pasulka Sun Other Stars

Simon & Schuster, 2014

And, yet, that suggests that the three can be separated, whereas this twenty-two-year-old man and calcio (kick/soccer) and the Italian Riviera setting are inextricably intertwined.

Consider this breathy sentence from the novel’s opening chapter:

“Anyway, Mamma, the Scottish boys, and Papà’s friends immediately started laughing at Papà’s English, and nearly set off an international incident when they were shushed by the Spaniards in the row in front of them, who were shushed by the Peruvians in front of them, who were shushed by the Cameroonese or Cameroonians or whatever in front of them, who were shushed by the Poles in front of them.”

The passage reveals the bizarrely intimate and exclusionary experience of attending a calcio match in Italy; it is an international sport, yet, but all that really matters is the interaction between one man and one woman and their shared passions (for sports and for life), for this is the story about Mamma and Papà’s courtship.

There are many other attendees at the match, just as there are many other villagers whose stories populate the novel’s pages (the author references Dante in her acknowledgments, and the versions of his characters that populate San Benedetto).

But it doesn’t matter from whence they’ve come (not even how one should refer to them), unless they are residents, unless their lives and deaths are woven into this web of community.

And, yes, deaths are integrally important to the story, principally those of Etto’s brother and mother.

“This is another thing you will discover if you lose someone close to you – if you ever want to go out in public again, you’ll have to learn how to treat our grief like a goiter or a great big boil. You’ll have to learn how to camouflage it and tuck it away so as not to scare the living.”

Life unfolds in the wake of those losses, on a small and familiar stage for Etto, though he inhabits the shadows and keeps his distance now. When someone new comes to town, the change embodies a  threat and a promise. “Her accent is off, the middle and ends of her words sharp like elbows.”

But despite the insularity in the town and in Etto’s experience of the world, there is a broader emphasis on connections between characters and on the potential to tangle.

One character’s observations of a particular work of art could summarize what Brigid Pasulka seeks to portray in The Sun and Other Stars:

“She called it human. And finally, that day, I saw what she saw, that this great work of art was just people doing human things – crying, blushing, sewing, grimacing, thinking, and doing those things with wool and weaving that no one knows the words to anymore. All of them intertwined.”

There is no ‘laughing’ referred to in that artwork, but there are humourous scenes in this novel, and many moments at which readers will smile, either in understanding or amusement. (Alternatively, Brigid Pasulka has learned to camouflage the sorrow, like a goiter or a boil.) Even the tone of that long sentence about the match is playful.

“Trust me. Calcio fix everything. You do not know the power of calico. Calcio put back order in universe. Calcio making everything better.”

There is a lot of calcio talk in this novel, but just as Angie Abdou’s The Bone Cage is about swimming but not only about swimming and just as Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is about baseball but not only about baseball, The Sun and Other Stars is about calcio but also about “all labors of love and celebrations of life”.*

“People dedicate themselves to calcio, season after season, for the same reason they keep getting married even though they’re tripping over their friends’ divorces wherever they go.”

Ultimately The Sun and Other Stars is about being hopeful, about looking beyond, about shared losses and possibilities. Brigid Pasulka paints a picture in subtle but memorable hues: human and intertwined.

*This is taken from the author’s acknowledgments, when she discusses the fun that she had writing the novel. You can learn more about her writing by visiting the publisher’s site and viewing a short interview. (Click on the cover image above.)

2014-06-26T14:51:01+00:00

8 Comments

  1. Kat February 6, 2014 at 9:58 am - Reply

    I never knew the word calcio before! What a wonderful review. I like the attendees at the match theme, and I actually enjoy soccer. I’ve heard nothing about this book: you’ve got an eye for the good ones.

    • Buried In Print February 6, 2014 at 11:54 am - Reply

      There are quite a few Italian words in the novel, but they do not trip up the reader (you can learn to cuss a little too) and definitely add to atmosphere. I seem to remember that you enjoyed the Harbach novel. This one is not as bookish as that one was, but it has a similar taking-its-time, total-immersion kind of feel to it.

  2. kissacloud February 5, 2014 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Just like what I’m reading right now.. Netherland.. which is about cricket and about New York, but not exactly..

    • Buried In Print February 5, 2014 at 7:22 pm - Reply

      That sounds like a terrific reading companion. Thanks for mentioning it, and I look forward to your thoughts!

  3. Aarti February 5, 2014 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    Oh, I like that this is a story about a lot of people at once. And I love when books evoke such a strong setting!

    • Buried In Print February 5, 2014 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      There is a strong sense of community, but you don’t really feel close to any of the other characters either, which is partly (I think) because Etto is keeping them at arm’s length while he deals with his grief. And even the prose seems to slow to reflect the setting; it’s not a fast read, but certainly creates a mood.

  4. Vasilly February 4, 2014 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    I need to see if my library has this.

    • Buried In Print February 5, 2014 at 10:35 am - Reply

      It’ll transport you to Italy in just a few pages: I hope you can find a copy!

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