The Miracle of Castel di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy
 
 


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The Miracle of Castel di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy [Paperback]

Joe McGinniss
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

We already knew Joe McGinniss could chill our blood (Fatal Vision) and arouse both our pity and distaste for the Kennedys (The Last Brother), but who knew he could be so funny? (Well, maybe readers who remember The Selling of the President back in 1968.) Even those who have no interest in soccer--the majority of Americans, he ruefully admits--will relish the author's vivid account of a team from Castel di Sangro, a tiny town in Italy's poorest region, that against all expectations made it to the national competition. Whether he's chronicling his ordeal at possibly the least-inviting hotel in Italy (the heat doesn't come on until October, no matter the temperature; he is assigned to a room up four flights of stairs though there are no other guests), or sketching a colorful cast of characters that includes the team's sinister owner and an utterly unflappable translator, McGinniss prompts roars of laughter as he reveals an Italy tourists never see. He also saddens readers with a shocking final scene in which he confronts the nation's casual corruption, which taints men he's come to respect and even love. Although not a conventional memoir, this stirring book reveals as much about the author's passionate character as about the nation and the players who win his heart, then break it. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

With the growing popularity of soccer in North America, McGinniss, author of numerous best-selling works of narrative nonfiction (Blind Faith, LJ 1/89), has written the rags-to-riches story of how an Italian soccer team, Castel di Sangro from the Abruzzi region, rose through the ranks from the very bottom (Terza Categoria) to the Serie BAa remarkable feat. There are eight steps to reach the world's best league, the Serie A. The Italian press was motivated by the achievement of Castel di Sangro, referring to the club as the "Lilliputi." More than a mere history of the team's improbable season, this book provides the reader with insights into the passionate world of Italian soccer. The journey documents the trials and tribulations surrounding a professional sports team. Certainly a good read for soccer fans as well as for other sports enthusiasts; recommended for purchase where demand warrants.
-ALarry Robert Little, Penticton P.L., BC
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Castel di Sangro is a tiny town in the Abruzzi region of Italy, definitely not listed in the travel guidebooks. It is also the home of an obscure soccer team that miraculously managed to move up in the league in a nation wild about what the world outside the culturally chauvinistic U.S. calls football. Their triumphs were just inconceivable. The miracle of Castel di Sangro captured the imagination of McGinniss at a time in his life (mid-50s) when he was admittedly "psychically ripe" for the obsession. He traveled to the town and lived with the team for a year, watching their journey upward through a structure as complex and rigid as that of the Mafia or the Vatican. And McGinniss captures the fanaticism of soccer fans and the idiosyncrasies of the team members, such as the publicity-hungry manager Gabriele Gravina, married to the niece of the team's owner, the mysterious Godfather-like Signor Rezza. McGinniss travels with the team throughout Italy, describing the different cultures as well as the technicalities of the sport. The scrittore americano attracted as much publicity as the team by a press amazed that an American loved and understood the sport. As the team approached the final game that could move it to the top level, il sistema required that they lose. Why? It could have been debts owed, favors owed, whatever. The players cautioned McGinniss against publicizing the fact that they had thrown the game. But after investing a year of his life, McGinniss is disappointed in this ultimate proof that he can never understand the culture, no matter how much he loved the game. One doesn't have to be a soccer fan to enjoy this fascinating book. Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

This venture into the murky waters of Italian soccer begins as a radical departure for the best-selling journalist McGinnis (The Last Brother, not reviewed, etc.), known more for his true crime volumes than his sports reporting. Over the first few chapters McGinniss explains how he became enamored of the world's most popular sport after watching the 1994 World Cup, which took place in the US. He pursued his newfound love to one of the hotbeds of football (to give it its proper name) mania, Italy. There he stumbled across an enchanting true-to-life fairy tale, the story of a beleaguered minor-league team from Castel di Sangro, a tiny mountain town in the gut-wrenchingly poor Abruzzo region, a team that had managed to climb up the ladder of soccer success. McGinniss resolved to spend the entire season with the Castel di Sangro team to see if they would survive a year in Serie B representing the smallest municipality to ever send a team that high in Italian football. At first, this seems unlikely and even unpromising material for McGinniss, but as he develops emotional ties to the individual players, the wacky coach who calls himself ``a bulldozer,'' and the somewhat sinister figures who run the team, the book takes on a certain delightful momentum. Gradually, readers will come to care for and admire these young men with the same intensity as the author. Regrettably, it all turns sour at the endfor reasons having nothing to do with the outcome of their season's effortsin ways that recapitulate the ending of McGinniss's relationship with other subjects, notably Jeffrey Macdonald, whom he wrote about in Fatal Vision. Too often, the author makes himself the center of his story; but he is too good a reporter not to convey some of what makes the sport and the people around it so compelling. Up to the last 40 pages, an entertaining and often moving read. (First printing of 100,000; author tour) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"Rich in comic incidents, delightful characters, and dramatic surprises"
--New York Times

"What McGinniss recounts in this wonderful memoir is the stuff of Italian opera--passion, buffoonery, courage, treachery, and tragedy."
--Dallas Morning News

"Soccer acts as a lens through which the author sees the real Italy, the medium-sized industrial towns where people live and work, away from the tourist's gaze. McGinniss went looking for a soccer team and found lives filled with humor and tragedy."
--The Wall Street Journal

"A classic of cultures colliding."
--The Independent

From the Inside Flap

Master storyteller Joe McGinniss travels to Italy to cover the unlikely success of a ragtag minor league soccer team--and delivers a brilliant and utterly unforgettable story of life in an off-the-beaten-track Italian village.

When Joe McGinniss sets out for the remote Italian village of Castel di Sangro one summer, he merely intends to spend a season with the village's soccer team, which only weeks before had, miraculously, reached the second-highest-ranking professional league in the land. But soon he finds himself embroiled with an absurd yet irresistible cast of characters, including the team's owner, described by the New York Times as "straight out of a Mario Puzo novel," and coach Osvaldo Jaconi, whose only English word is the one he uses to describe himself: "bulldozer."  

As the riotous, edge-of-your-seat season unfolds, McGinniss develops a deepening bond with the team, their village and its people, and their country. Traveling with the miracle team, from the isolated mountain region where Castel di Sangro is located to gritty towns as well as grand cities, McGinniss introduces us to an Italy that no tourist guidebook has ever described, and comes away with a "sad, funny, desolating, and inspiring story--everything, in fact, a story should be" (Los Angeles Times).

From the Back Cover

"Rich in comic incidents, delightful characters, and dramatic surprises"
--New York Times

"What McGinniss recounts in this wonderful memoir is the stuff of Italian opera--passion, buffoonery, courage, treachery, and tragedy."
--Dallas Morning News

"Soccer acts as a lens through which the author sees the real Italy, the medium-sized industrial towns where people live and work, away from the tourist's gaze. McGinniss went looking for a soccer team and found lives filled with humor and tragedy."
--The Wall Street Journal

"A classic of cultures colliding."
--The Independent

About the Author

As a young man Joe McGinniss shot to literary stardom with The Selling of the President, his account of the 1968 American Election. He is the author of the international bestsellers BLIND FAITH and FATAL VISION. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The day before I went back to Italy, I got a fax from a man named Giuseppe. The news it contained was not good.
As I've promised, I take you the details of your arrive. It is not easy to go from Rome to Castel di Sangro: we are in a montain zone (800 m on sea level; much than 200 km from Rome) and you'll take the train to arrive.

If you are at 7:35 a.m. on Fiumicino Airport in Rome, you'll be able to take a taxi to go to Termini Railway Station to take the 11:50 train from Rome to SULMONA. The arrive is on 15:06 p.m. Sulmona is at 150 km from Castel di Sangro and I'll be at Sulmona station. Excuse me, but I'm very busy in this days before the first match of the championship for some manifestation about Castel di Sangro and it is very impossible for me to be at Rome as I want. . . . But we are mointain people and, don't worry, we are used to combact against difficulties. As Lilliput people in a Gigant World.
So Giuseppe would not meet my plane after all. I flew to Rome anyway, of course. But as soon as I wheeled my luggage cart through customs, and the horde of cab drivers descended upon me, I picked the first one.

"How much to Sulmona?"

"Five 'undred thousand."

"Four," I said.

He motioned with his thumb. "Follow me." And so I was off to the Abruzzo, well in advance of the 11:50 from Rome. Italy is composed of twenty regions. Some are legendary, others extremely popular with foreign tourists, and still more, though not as well known to outsiders, prized by the Italians themselves. And then there is the Abruzzo.

Frommer's 1996 guide to Italy describes it as "one of the poorest and least visited regions" in the country. "Arid and sunscorched . . . prone to frequent earthquakes, the Abruzzo is . . . impoverished and visually stark." It is a region, says another guidebook, "in which there is little of interest to see and even less to do."

This reputation was not acquired overnight. Nathaniel Hawthorne visited in the nineteenth century and wrote even then that the region was "without enough of life and juiciness to be any longer susceptible of decay. An earthquake would afford it the only chance of ruin, beyond its present ruin."

And that was in season. The English poet Swinburne, for reasons never adequately explained, attempted to penetrate the Abruzzo's mountainous defenses in the winter of 1879 but was driven back by "as outrageous a blast of snow as any I've ever faced." He returned to Rome and did not try again.

As for the inhabitants, the English travel essayist Norman Douglas wrote in the early years of this century that "their life is one of miserable, revolting destitution." And Frommer's pointed out more recently that "many of its people have emigrated to more prosperous regions," leaving behind only "clannish local families," described in another book as "atavistic and introspective."

"This is still a land," author Tim Jepson has written, "that could provide settings for a dozen fairy tales, with its wolves and bears and sturdy country folk. . . . Villages on snow-dusted hills are wreathed in mist amid the wild mountains, deep valleys and dark forests; and ancient are crafts practiced for their own uses, not for the tourists."

But I was no tourist. For better or worse, I had business in the Abruzzo. My destination was the remote town of Castel di Sangro, which some contend means "castle of blood" in the local dialect.

The town is shielded from outsiders by what one reference book describes as an "inaccessibility extreme even by the standards of the Abruzzo." It is located almost 3,000 feet above sea level. Winter lasts from October to May, and in all seasons bestial winds gust down upon it from higher mountains above.

On one side, Castel di Sangro is bordered by the Abruzzo National Park, which still contains wolves and brown bears, as well as more than thirty species of reptile. On the other side lies the immense and silent Valle della Femmina Morta, or "valley of the dead woman." Strangers to the region who ask how such a name came to attach itself to such a vast and empty expanse reportedly receive only shrugs or the shaking of heads in response.

Beyond the valley rises La Maiella, an enormous limestone massif cut by deep and treacherous canyons and containing more than fifty peaks, the highest of which, Monte Amaro, or "the bitter mountain," reaches an altitude of almost 10,000 feet. Again, the origin of the name has been lost in the mists of time and legend.

"This is a landscape," warns yet another guidebook, "that should be approached with caution." Or, in the alternative, not approached at all. Yet so deep in the grip of mania was I that I was not only approaching but preparing to plunge into its core: alone, knowing no one, speaking not a word of Italian, yet committed to staying for more than nine months.

My arrival came on a warm Saturday in early September of 1996. The driver dropped me at the deserted Sulmona train station just before noon. All seemed tranquil and pleasant. Leaving my mass of luggage in the somewhat drowsy custody of a ticket agent, I walked a few hundred yards into the center of the city (population: 25,000), ate a moderate lunch, and returned to the station. I napped intermittently for an hour or two, lying on the platform next to the tracks, my head resting on a duffel bag and dappled sunlight falling on me through late-summer leaves.

In midafternoon I heard a train whistle in the distance. My train! The 11:50 from Rome. I looked at my watch: 3 p.m. Right on time. Leaving my luggage again, I walked to the front of the station, looking for someone who might be Giuseppe, hoping that some new "manifestation" had not prevented him from coming to Sulmona.

Just then, a small, battered automobile entered the parking lot at high speed and jerked to a halt. Out bounded a man who appeared to be in his mid-twenties, with dark hair and an alert look in his eyes.

"Giuseppe?" I called.

From AudioFile

McGinniss admits that he's obsessed with soccer. Why else would he go to an Italian mountain village to spend a season getting to know a previously obscure team that made headlines when it advanced to Italy's second-highest soccer league? But Dick Hill's spirited narration and McGinniss's boundless enthusiasm make it seem not that crazy a project. Hill captures the passion the players feel for the game, masters a plausible Italian accent, and gracefully handles the passages in which the conversation runs in Italian with English translation following. Memorable characters crowd the program, with Hill catching their essence, including the likable players; the frustrated author; the bullying, strong-willed coach; and the omnipresent owner and manager, who have other goals for the team besides winning the season. Spirit and passion give this program universal appeal, for it captures the human capacity to be dedicated to a cause. M.A.M. (c) AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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