Ricci, Nino (Pio) 1959-
RICCI, Nino (Pio) 1959-
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "ree-chee"; born August 23, 1959, in Leamington, Ontario, Canada; son of Virginio (a farmer) and Amelia (a farmer; maiden name, Ingratta) Ricci. Education: York University, B.A., 1981; Concordia University, M.A., 1987; attended University of Florence, 1988-89.
ADDRESSES: Home—139 Wolseley St., Toronto, Ontario M6J 1K3, Canada. Office—c/o Writers' Union of Canada, 40 Wellington St. E, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1C7, Canada. Agent—Anne McDermid & Associates, 92 Wilcocks St., Toronto, Ontario M5S 1C8, Canada.
CAREER: Writer. Ogun State Education Board, Nigeria, secondary school teacher, 1981-83; Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, instructor in creative writing, composition, and Canadian literature, 1986-88; Berlitz Language Schools, Montreal, English and Italian instructor, 1987.
MEMBER: PEN, Canadian PEN Center (member of board of directors, 1990-97; president, 1995-97), Amnesty International (coordinator of human rights education committee, 1987-88).
AWARDS, HONORS: F. G. Bressani Prize from Italian Cultural Center Society, Governor-General's Literary Award from Canada Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize from Royal Society of Literature, W. H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and Betty Trask Award from Society of Authors, all 1990, all for Lives of the Saints; short list, QSPELL award for fiction, 1990, Los Angeles Book Prize, 1991, Giller Prize for Fiction, 1997; Trillium Book Award, 2003, for Testament.
Lives of the Saints, Cormorant Books (Dunvegan, Ontario, Canada), 1990, published as The Book of Saints, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
In a Glass House: A Novel, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993, Picador (New York, NY), 1995.
Where She Has Gone, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997, Picador (New York, NY), 1998.
Testament, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
Contributor to books, including The Moosehead Anthology: A Collection of Contemporary Writing, DC Books, 1989; Ricordi: Things Remembered, edited by C. D. Minni, Guernica Editions, 1989. Contributor to many periodicals, including Saturday Night, Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, Fiddlehead, and Toronto Life.
Lives of the Saints has been translated into seven languages.
SIDELIGHTS: First-generation Canadian Nino Ricci, author of the award-winning novel Lives of the Saints, told New York Times Book Review critic Richard E. Nicholls that in his writing he wants to portray "the experience of being an immigrant in the modern world." Ricci's parents emigrated from Italy to Canada, but regaled their son with stories of their native village and faithfully observed Italian culture. During his interview with Nicholls, Ricci explained that "being raised in a tight-knit Italian community in Canada, I grew up with a sense of village dynamics." As a secondary school teacher in Nigeria for two years, Ricci found further inspiration for his novel. He told Nicholls that living in this "energetic and flamboyant land" was "like going back to an older Italy. In its strong mix of religion and folk beliefs it gave me a sense of how life might transpire in the small world of a village. My image of life in [the fictional Italian village of] Valle del Sole had at least part of its origins in Africa."
Lives of the Saints, which earned Canada's prestigious Governor-General's Literary Award, is set in a small, theistic Italian village in 1960. Seven-year-old narrator Vittorio Innocente and his mother Cristina Innocente live alone in Valle del Sole while Vittorio's father prepares a home for them in Canada. Lonely and unhappy with her marriage, Cristina finds comfort with a non-Italian, but their affair is revealed when she is bitten by a snake during a rendezvous. Outraged by her debauchery, Cristina's fellow villagers believe the snake bite signals her disfavour with God; mother and son become outcasts in the village. Cristina fights the vicious insults in a brazen manner, but naive Vittorio is harassed and beaten by his peers. Because of their neighbors' unforgiving attitudes, they are eventually forced to flee to Canada. Listener contributor Steven Amidon commented that the novel's "pagan atmosphere adds drama and poignancy both to Cristina's transgression and Vittorio's fall from grace, showing them to be innocents in a world which long ago lost any resemblance to Eden. Their flight from this weedy garden is as fraught and terrifying as expulsion from paradise must be." Barbara Grizzuti Harrison concluded in the New York Times Book Review that Lives of the Saints is "an extraordinary story—brooding and ironic, suffused with yearning, tender and lucid and gritty."
In a Glass House, Ricci's next novel, is the second installment in what Ricci plans will be a trilogy about Vittorio Innocente. The novel begins with Vittorio's arrival in Canada with his baby half-sister—the product of his mother's illicit affair in Italy. His mother has died in childbirth on the passage to Canada, and his father is revealed as a bitter and angry man, part of an immigrant farming community. In an attempt to grow things in the harsh Canadian climate, he is forever building greenhouses, which become the metaphorical glass houses of the title.
Vittorio struggles to fit in and to love his father and his sister (who is rejected by his father and eventually adopted by a Canadian family). He teaches for a while in Africa, returns to Canada, and, at the end of the novel, confronts his father's death. John Melmoth's review in the Times Literary Supplement noted that "Vittorio's experience is, in part, representative of the 'subtle' embitterment of the migrant, forever out of place. He is trapped between antithesis: between … self-conscious aloofness and the need to belong … between Italy and Canada; resistance and acquiescence; dark and light."
Maclean's critic Lawrence Scanlan wrote, "The operative word in the novel is 'humiliation'" and noted that the novel "explores an immigrant's pain as a doctor explores a wound. It is far more personal, even autobiographical than its predecessor." Melmoth felt that "In a Glass House is a novel of great power, but it is almost entirely devoid of any lighter moments." Yet Scanlan observed, "Ricci's great gift is to capture, sometimes in exquisite prose, the texture of people and place," and Quill & Quire reviewer David Prosser commented: "Vittorio's self-discovery is one in which we all share: it is as if, in focusing a microscope on an unpromising slide, we had caught a glimpse of the human soul."
Ricci completed his immigrant trilogy in 1997 with the publication of Where She Has Gone. In this novel, Vittorio, now known as Victor, attempts to establish a relationship with his illegitimate half-sister, Rita, who is studying in Toronto. Brother and sister get somewhat too close as Victor becomes obsessed with Rita, causing her to flee to Europe to avoid the situation. Haunted by the tragedies in his mother's life and death, Victor returns to his ancestral village in Italy, searching for a glimpse into his family's history. Time reviewer Pico Iyer commented: "Ricci has spun out a delicate and soulful novel, tiptoeing around silences and respecting those secrets that are guessed at, as well as those that are best left untouched." Maclean's critic John Bemrose commented that Ricci "has a great gift for evoking the nuances of human relationship: those loaded silences and gestures that say more than words ever can," but he also noted that "too much of the novel has fallen prey to a narrative meagerness, a thinness of character and situation."
Ricci's fourth novel, Testament, a fictionalized biography of Jesus from the perspective of four people who knew him, emerged in a hailstorm of debate over its treatment of the life of Jesus. Maclean's contributor Brian Bethune explained, "Ricci's Jesus is not divine, but he is a moral visionary whose illegitimacy—he's the bastard child of Mary and the Roman officer who raped her—leads him to embrace the cause of the outcast." Books in Canada critic Donald Akeson wrote, "Ricci is trying to accomplish on an artistic level what scholarly searchers for the historical Jesus are doing: telling what Jesus of Nazareth might have done as a human being, and then explaining how this man somehow was transformed by his followers and their descendants into a god or, maybe, the God." Because of its subject matter, Testament was as controversial as it was critically acclaimed. A Catholic Insight reviewer called it "extremely offensive." In 2003 the government of Ontario, Canada, awarded Ricci the Trillium Book Award for Testament.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 1995, Kathy Broderick, review of In A Glass House: A Novel, p. 252.
Books in Canada, December, 1992, review of Lives of the Saints, pp. 10-12; October, 1993, review of In A Glass House, p. 34; December, 1997, reviews ofWhere She Has Gone, Lives of the Saints, and In a Glass House, p. 4; August, 2002, Donald Akenson, review of Testament, pp. 6-7.
Canadian Book Review Annual, Volume 3, 1997, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 195.
Canadian Literature, spring, 1992, review of Lives of the Saints, p. 176.
Catholic Insight, July-August, 2002, review of Testament, p. 30.
CM: A Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People, March, 1994, review of In A Glass House, p. 40.
Dalhousie Review, spring, 1992, review of Lives of the Saints, p. 38.
Essays on Canadian Writing, fall, 1992, review of Lives of the Saints, p. 69.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1995, review of In A Glass House, p. 1138; May 15, 1998, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 684.
Library Journal, May 1, 1998, Joshua Cohen, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 140; May 15, 2003, Patrick Sullivan, review of Testament, p. 126.
Listener, September 27, 1990, p. 33; October 4, 1993, p. 52.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 12, 1995, review of In A Glass House, p. 10.
Maclean's, February 4, 1991, p. 63; October 4, 1993, review of In A Glass House, p. 52; October 20, 1997, John Bemrose, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 98; May 13, 2002, Brian Bethune, review of Testament, p. 75.
New York Times Book Review, June 2, 1991, p. 7; October 8, 1995, review of In a Glass House, p. 42; October 22, 1995, review of The Book of Saints, p. 44; October 11, 1998, review of In a Glass House, p. 32; October 27, 1998, Allen Lincoln, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 23.
Observer (London, England), August 7, 1994, review of In A Glass House, p. 22; February 22, 1998, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, September 11, 1995, review of In a Glass House, p. 74, and The Book of Saints, p. 82; May 18, 1998, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 69; April 21, 2003, review of Testament, p. 38.
Quill & Quire, October, 1993, p. 26; August, 1997, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 22.
Spectator, July 30, 1994, review of In A Glass House, p. 28.
Studies in Canadian Literature, Volume 18, number 2, 1993, pp. 168-184.
Sun (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), April 12, 1998, Vanna Tessier, review of Where She Has Gone.
Time, August 10, 1998, Pico Iyer, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 86.
Times Literary Supplement, August 12, 1994, review of In A Glass House, p. 22; March 20, 1998, review of Where She Has Gone, p. 22.
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.ca/ (November 23, 2002), review of Testament.*