"The Betrothed", doesn't seem to do justice to this book. Maybe I Promessi Sposi, as it is titled in the original Italian, does a better job? I don't know but when I heard the translated titled and then heard that Pope Francis had recommended it to all engaged couples, I thought it would be mostly about two people. And God; I figured there would be some God in there too. To be honest, I was anticipating this to be a bit of a slog. But I knew I had some accountability because I was reading it with others, but at a slow pace so I could also be reading some other things as well. I thought of this like a vitamin book - good for me but not super enjoyable.
I am humble enough to admit that I was wrong. Two things struct me about this book. The first is how action filled the plot is. I mean we've got people going here and there and lots of different characters doing lots of different things (I know that's kinda vague but I don't want to spoil it). There are a few places were it slows down but for the most part, things keep moving!
The second, and this may sound contradictory, is that Allesandro Manzoni does a fabulous job at describing characters. He's a people watcher for sure. And I just loved how, no matter how intense the plot is at a given moment, he'd just stop and give us a background on a new character coming into the story. And sometimes that background was extensive, I mean, taking two chapters to go back to the childhood of side character! And I was so torn, because plot! What's gonna happen! Ack! But then my brain would stop and go "oh, hmm, this is interesting too". My only issue was I felt like the ending left a few of those character's hanging. I see now that they were really were only side characters but because we got so much of their story, I kept expecting them to play a bigger role. Looking back I understand how just knowing their story helps us understand their choices and that's such a big theme of this book, the choices we make with the circumstances we are given. I'm okay with it but I did end the book a bit, well, not exactly upset but just unsettled. But his character's were great. The good, the bad, the in-between and the change part way through as well.
And, not surprisingly, given the Pope's recommendation and description of it as having been influential, it does have some rich ideas. As I was thinking it over after having finished it, and making my peace with the above vagueness, I found myself pondering some of those in the light of situations today. To me, that's the sign of a good book. Hmm, perhaps I should venture out of my English books comfort zone more often. And not just so I can sound snooty at cocktail parties. Because let's face it, I haven't been to a cocktail party, well, ever.
The Betrothed is my Classic in Translation selection for the Back to the Classics Challenge. Find out more over at books and chocolate.