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Adam's Breed by Radclyffe Hall
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Adam's Breed (1926)

by Radclyffe Hall

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Not my favorite. To be honest, I was rather bored while I read this book. The beginning drags out, starting with the main character's birth and infancy. Gian Luca is orphaned from the start of his life; his mother dies in delivery, and his father is unknown to all but his silent mother. His grandmother, Teresa, loses her religion, and basically her heart, when her daughter dies. She raises the boy with all the care and sustenance his physical body needs, but with not a drop of love or affection. His grandfather, Fabio, tries to supply all the love the boy is deprived of, but Gian Luca knows something is lacking. He misses maternal love.

An interesting premise, yet after the opening chapter, the author focuses on the infant Gian Luca's perspective on growing older and distances the tension that she sets up in the story of Teresa and Fabio and their daughter Olga. Instead, we read about how an infant may perceive the world, the focus on hunger gradually broadening to other interests, the egocentrism that all children possess. While I found these chapters to be technically fascinating, with a point of view that isn't normally done in books, the reading was slow going. Over the next several chapters, Gian Luca grows into a lonely and isolated child, who believes that he has no father and no country. Teresa agrees with him, and teaches him his motto for life, that he has himself and needs nothing else.

About a third of the way into the book, Gian Luca becomes a teenager and quickly passes into adulthood, all while working as a waiter. His grandparents run a salumeria, and since it is a given that Gian Luca will work when he is of that age, being a waiter is an ideal choice. His life has always been centered around food, and that is a huge theme of the book, food that nourishes us and can also harm us, being fed physically and being fed spiritually. Gian Luca is a born server, according to the author, and quickly rises to position of head waiter at the prestigious Doric restaurant. He meets his wife, Maddalena, there, and yet her love for him is still not enough to fill the void in his heart. Much of his time at the Doric is consumed with his tormented inner quest to find himself and understand his spirit. His grandmother's motto, that all he needs is himself, proves to be an illusion that unravels as he ages.

The narrative spurts forward with interesting passages, before dropping again to a plodding pace. I alternated between interest that propelled me through several chapters at a time, to a vague curiosity that lasted a couple of pages before I set it aside. I'm not sure I can explain why I kept feelings lags when I read this book, but I think it falls into that old writer's problem of describing something mundane without being boring in the writing itself. This novel is about Gian Luca's life, and much of it is in the details of the daily grind. Also, a good portion of the novel centers on introspection. None of these are bad in themselves, but the writing needs a spice to liven them so that we want to read about these events. Either a plot device that brings more action, a side plot that ties into the daily life or the philosophy but delivers comic relief or suspense, or a relationship that is full of tension that parallels the inner thoughts - some technique that drives these other aspects of the novel forward. After all, I wouldn't want to sit and watch a person in deep thought, and I don't really want to read it, either, unless more is going on. My interest always perked when the author introduced more action in the plot, such as the war breaking out or Gian Luca meeting Maddalena.

Hall is a good writer. The details are interesting and evocative, and the spiritual quest that Gian Luca pursues is fascinating, with some great symbolism such as the blind child and the blind bird, and ultimately satisfying. If I had expected more of a metaphysical read and less of a novel, I would not have been so disappointed. ( )
  nmhale | Aug 2, 2012 |
Gian-Luca's mother died in childbirth, leaving her illegitimate son to be raised by his grandparents. Fabio and Teresa live in an Italian community in London; Fabio is a naturalized citizen. Gian-Luca is "English in the eyes of the law." He's different from all the boys in school both because of his ethnic background, and because he has no father. And worse yet, Teresa sees Gian-Luca as the cause of her daughter's death, and is unable to show him any affection. He grows up lonely and searching for love.

Fabio's salumeria is the one source of beauty in Gian-Luca's early life:
The shop! All his life Gian-Luca remembered those first impressions of the shop; the size of it, the smell of it, the dim, mysterious gloom of it -- a gloom from which strange objects would continually jump out and try to hit you in the face-- but above all the smell, that wonderful smell that belongs to the Salumeria. The shop smelt of sawdust and cheeses and pickles and olives and sausages and garlic; the shop smelt of oil and cans and Chianti and a little of split peas and lentils; the shop smelt of coffee and sour brown bread and very faintly of vanilla; the shop smelt of people, of Fabio's boot blacking, and of all the boots that went in and out unblacked; it also smelt of Old Compton Street, a dusty, adventurous smell. (p. 27)

When Gian-Luca leaves school, he begins a career as a waiter, and eventually becomes head waiter in The Doric, London's finest restaurant. Gian-Luca is talented and driven, but empty, lacking the emotional and spiritual connections so important to personal well-being. His life is a quest for identity, and for love.

Radclyffe Hall brings the Italian immigrant community to life, with delicious food and a rich supporting cast. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and the early 20th-century restaurant business. But Adam's Breed is a melancholy book that explores themes of love, God, and human nature. By the end it had evolved beyond its initial premise to a moving story of one man's search for self, and meaning. ( )
6 vote lauralkeet | Oct 21, 2010 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hall, Radclyffeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gede, KarenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hennegan, AlisonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hynes, GladysCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lami, AnnieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Möller, BirgitTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Portaz, Mme LéonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wacker, ElisabethTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Illegitimate and orphaned, Gian-Luca is brought up by his Italian grandparents in their prosperous salumeria in Old Compton Street, Soho. Here, surrounded by plenty -- by bottles of Chianti in straw petticoats, by pasta and garlic, strings of sausages and jars of dark olives -- he lacks that more important sustenance, of the soul. A stranger in the land of his birth, denied religious identiity and human love, Gian-Luca grows to maturity seeking to resolve a terrible conflict betweeen the needs of his spirit and the demands of the material world. First published in 1926, Adam's Breed won the Prix Femina and the James Tait Black prize. A psychological novel in the tradition of May Sinclair and Dorothy Richardson, it is one of Radclyffe Hall's most interesting works of fiction.
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