(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

It is Italy in the year 1944: The Germans are locked in combat with the Allied forces advancing from the south, while the countryside is roamed by partisan bands, ambushing German convoys and disrupting their supply lines. Overhead, Allied bombers pass by on their way to the destruction of cities and factories, while at sea the low, dark shapes of warships patrol the coasts.

The convulsion of a world at war is lost on Pin, a young, foulmouthed urchin who is both precocious in worldly ways and almost touchingly naive. He smokes, cadges drinks from men in the local bar, sings them dirty songs and tells them filthy jokes to win their approval, but despises them so thoroughly that he inevitably turns on them with his cruel, accurate wit. The men turn on him with their fists and boots and kick him out into the street. For Pin,however, adults are his only companions; he cannot get along with boys his own age.

Pin lives with his sister, Rina, who is known as the Dark Girl of Long Alley. Rina’s current boyfriend is a young German sailor; there have been many others, and Pin contemptuously dismisses his sister as a whore. Their mother is dead and their father has deserted them.

Pin is plunged into the complexity of the war through accident, almost on a dare. The drinkers in the bar become excited when a partisan recruiter passes through town, and, although their commitment is limited to some loud and indiscreet talk, they convince Pin to...

(The entire section is 567 words.)