The Almond Picker

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Set in 1963 Sicily, Simonetta Agnello Hornby's The Almond Picker is the tale of an unusual housemaid and the legacy that follows her death. Menulara served the Allfalipe family since the age of thirteen. Within minutes of her death, the three now adult children of the family become hysterical after receiving a letter with highly specific directions for the printing of her obituary and funeral arrangements. The townspeople are eager to gossip once they see the manner in which the Allfalipes appear to mourn their servant.

Throughout the novel, the point of view shifts among the characters, some are wealthy friends of the Allfalipes, others include the town doctor, the priest, other servants, and even the local Mafia boss. This serves the double purpose of posthumously characterizing Menulara as well as depicting the world of postwar Sicily. Each character possesses a memory key to understanding the gravely secretive Menulara, while also revealing the ways she continuously defied traditional gender, social, and economic roles. Meanwhile, the Allfalipe children continue to pursue the directives of Menulara. When they fail to comply with her first letter the results are catastrophic. They quickly correct the advertisements and within a day are rewarded with the directions for the sale of valuable antiquities. However, their long-held resentment of her power combined with their lack of faith in her competence ultimately costs them the fortunes to which they feel entitled.

It is the priest and the doctor who finally put together the fragmented memories of Menulara's life and achieve peace of mind in doing so. They each find comfort and recognize the complex truths of her existence and the myriad ways she overcame her position in a dramatically shifting social and economic world.