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The title of the novel refers to the German massacre of innocent civilians in the remote, Italian town of Sant'Anna de Stazzema on the morning of August 12, 1944. The atrocities perpetrated by German troops, purportedly in retaliation for a Partisan betrayal, led to the deaths of some 560 women, children, and the elderly. Accordingly, many of the men, in advance of the German ambush, had already hidden themselves in the forest out of fear that they would be conscripted by the Nazi troops. The youngest recorded death was that of Anna Pardini, who was only 20 days old at the time. The Italian Partisans were anti-fascist fighters who aided Allied efforts during World War II.
The title of the book references a miracle. This miracle is embodied in the character of Angelo, the mute Italian boy who is the sole survivor of the massacre in the novel and a composite for the few, actual survivors of the real massacre. Through Angelo, the four African American members of the 92nd Division (Lt. Stamps, Bishop Cummings, Hector, and Sam Train) come to understand what a miracle really is.
...it was this child of innocence, a child who had survived a massacre, a miracle boy who represented everything that every Italian held dear, the power to love, unconditionally, forever, to forgive, to live after the worst of atrocities, and most of all, the power to believe in God's miracles.
The miracle of Angelo's survival symbolizes new beginnings, hope for the future, the power of love to overcome, and the will to live. After Stamps dies in the last stand against the Germans, both Sam Train and Bishop continue to protect Angelo. It is through protecting the child that they are able to reclaim their own humanity and to triumph over the evil they have had to endure. After Train succumbs to his terrible wounds and dies, Bishop runs through enemy fire to retrieve the injured Angelo.
As Bishop himself dies from his own wounds, he suddenly realizes that the miracle of St. Anna and Train's persistence in saving Angelo are connected. Through saving Angelo, Train manages to preserve his innocence amid the dehumanizing elements of battle conflict and unmitigated violence. Therefore, the surrealism of Bishop bequeathing two life-giving breaths to the lifeless Angelo represents the transfer of everything Bishop has learned about miracles to the young boy. It is Angelo then, who will carry on the will to live and the will to thrive despite the suffering endured under Nazi oppression.
He had found his lost innocence, found it in the giant's belief in love, the giant's belief in miracles, the giant's love of a boy who was one of God's miracles.
You may be interested in reading about a real life Angelo, Enrico Pieri, who managed to hide in a bean field after his whole family was massacred at Sant'Anna di Stazzema. In the article below, Andreas Schendel (whose uncle, Heinrich Schendel, was one of the ten Nazi officers convicted in absentia for the terrible atrocities at Sant'Anna di Stazzema) meets with Enrico Pieri. You can read about the history of the massacre and the emotional interview below:
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