On Earth as It Is in Heaven
On Earth as It Is in Heaven
Farrar Straus Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374130046, 310pp.
Publication Date: March 11, 2014
A dark, gripping coming-of-age tale that explores violence, friendship, family, and what it means to be a man
Summer, Palermo, early 1980s. The air hangs hot and heavy. The Mafia-ruled city is a powder keg ready to ignite. In a boxing gym, a fatherless nine-year-old boy climbs into the ring to face his first opponent.
So begins "On Earth as It Is in Heaven," a sweeping multigenerational saga that reaches back to the collapse of the Italian front in North Africa and forward to young Davidu's quest to become Italy's national boxing champion, a feat that has eluded the other men of his family.
But Davide Enia, whose layered, lyrical, nonchronological novel caused a sensation when it was published in Italy in 2012, has crafted an epic that soars in miniature as well. The brutal struggles for dominance among Davidu's all male circle of friends; his strict but devoted grandmother, whose literacy is a badge of honor; his charismatic and manipulative great-uncle, who will become his trainer the vicious scenes and sometimes unsympathetic characters Enia sketches land hard and true.
"On Earth as It Is in Heaven "is both firmly grounded in what Leonardo Sciascia liked to call "Sicilitude" - the language and mentality of that eternally perplexing island - and devastatingly universal. A meditation on physical violence, love and sex, friendship and betrayal, boxing and ambition, Enia's novel is also a coming-of-age tale that speaks - sometimes crudely, but always honestly - about the joys and terrors of becoming a man.
Praise for On Earth as It Is in Heaven:“Davide Enia has done something nearly impossible: written a phenomenal novel on boxing.” —Robert Anasi, author of The Gloves: A Boxing Chronicle and The Last Bohemia: Scenes from the Life of Williamsburg, Brooklyn“Enia’s unusual novel about a teenage Sicilian boxer in a family of boxers was a critical and commercial success when it was published in Italy in 2012, and it’s easy to see why. Not only does the author offer a gripping multigenerational saga about an Italian family living in the shadow of war—two world wars and the Mafia gang wars that gripped Palermo in the 1980s—but he also layers an intense look at the insular world of boxing into a moving coming-of-age story about young Davide’s attempt to claim the crown that was denied to both his father and his uncle: the Italian national boxing championship. On one hand, the boxing story recalls Robert Lipsyte’s groundbreaking YA novel, The Contender (1967), with a touch of Chuck Palaniuk’s Fight Club (1996); but on the other hand, the almost surrealistic account of the collapse of the Italian front in Africa during WWII suggests Haruki Murakami. Somehow, in Shugaar’s nimble translation, the disparate themes and story lines come together naturally. Above all, Enia’s exploration of the many sides of masculinity, Sicilian style—some crippling, some inspiring—is challenging and intensely emotional.” —Bill Ott, Booklist“There is an honesty about this book that beggars explanation . . . The payoff is a picture of a real if disturbing world laid bare. There is a lot of ‘laid bare’ in this book. It is, among other things, about what men do to women in acts of aggression disguised as misbegotten ‘manliness.’ . . . The novel can be read as a punch-out from start to finish.” —Michael D. Langan, The Buffalo News“This Sicilian novel encompasses a multigenerational family—against a backdrop of war and the Mafia—as it tells the story of how a boy becomes a boxer and a man. This debut by an Italian novelist with previous playwriting experience shows the maturation of a 9-year-old boy into a champion-caliber boxer, following in the footsteps of the father he never knew and the uncle who has trained him. It’s also a story of sexual awakening, as the protagonist’s lifelong attraction to a girl he met when she was 9 becomes complicated by his involvement with her friend. The first-person narrative leaps around chronologically while rarely straying far from Palermo, where Enia was raised. ‘Palermo has always been a powder keg,’ he writes of the Sicilian capital, devastated by war and then terrorized by Mafia blood baths. Since all boxers have nicknames, the boy becomes known as Poet, a reflection of his sensitive, literary side, which will distinguish him from the brutishness surrounding him. Throughout the novel, the men are exceedingly macho, the women exaggeratedly sensual: ‘[H]er mouth, dripping with lipstick, prominent, fleshy, a living invitation to sin. When she swung her hips down the street, men went home with sprained necks . . . Heads of households went head over heels for her. Between her legs, months of hard-won savings were abandoned. Her cleavage was strewn with the wreckage of mortgages.’ Though the price for such a woman is a comparatively straightforward transaction, the protagonist learns that ‘everything has a price, not even death comes for free, you have to pay for it with your life.’ Though it can be a struggle to keep the narrative strands straight and see how they connect, a virtuoso climax ties everything together . . . The novel explores just what it means to be a man.” —Kirkus“Davide Enia tells a compelling story, set in his native Sicily, of violence and love. It is about a young boxer pursuing a championship but faced with distractions that his ancestors knew all too well. The writing is spectacular.” —William Gildea, author of The Longest Fight: In the Ring with Joe Gans, Boxing’s First African American Champion“A feint, a dodge, a strike, you back away and then you land the decisive punch. As entertaining as a bout, as powerful as a direct hit: a book that leaves you as breathless as a punch in the gut . . . Enia, a man of the theater as well as of music, tells—in language that’s sometimes like ballet and sometimes like hand-to-hand combat, dense and graceful by turns—the sentimental and pugilistic education of a young native of Palermo in the 1990s . . . Enia strikes and leaves a mark.” —Giorgio Maimone, Gioia“The style here is essential, the dialogue is lightning quick, the characters and scenes are as vivid as if the reader were watching a play instead of reading a book.” —Angiola Codacci-Pisanelli, L’Espresso“Truth and simplicity . . . [and] furious talent. On Earth as It Is in Heaven, Davide Enia’s debut novel, has these three powers . . . The fury of Enia’s writing is tied to his authenticity, his telling things how they are . . . which lends the novel the rhythm of the ring. One intuits that there’s something lived and indelible, something true, in this book . . . A powerful novel.” —Marco Missiroli, Vanity Fair (Italy)