Nino Ricci

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Nino Ricci was born fourth of six children in an Italian farming family in Leamington, Ontario. His older siblings did well in school and got him interested in reading. He earned a B.A. from Torontos York University, and a M.A. from Montreals Concordia, and studied in Florence, Italy. He spent two years teaching in Nigeria with CUSO, and after settling in Toronto, served as a director and then President in the mid-nineties of PEN Canada, the human rights organization that works for freedom of expression.

The Lives of the Saints, his first novel, started out as his masters thesis. It was originally to be a satiric romp with a delusional character who believed he was the second coming of Christ; his professor helped to weed out theover-the-top stuff of the early manuscripts by asking probing questions, and Ricci decided to divide what was an enormous project into three books. I had no idea whether the book would ever be published; it was hard to write it for that reason because every day youre thinking it might be just a waste of time. At the same time there is a kind of freedom in your early efforts.

The novel, about a young Italian boy from an Appenine village whose mother becomes the subject of a scandal, spent a stunning seventy-five weeks on the Globe and Mails bestseller list, and was acclaimed in more than a dozen countries, winning prizes in Canada, England and France. The New York Times Book Review called it "an extraordinary story - brooding and ironic, suffused with yearning, tender and lucid and gritty." Ricci feels that readers identified with the characters, and were especially attracted to the child, as children have such a fresh way of looking at the world.

The trilogy continued with In a Glass House, in which Vittorio struggles to adapt to a new world. The Times of London summed up many reactions when they called it beautifully written and tireless in its pursuit of emotional truth. Readers were fascinated by the exploration of the Italian background and the immigrant experience. In the third novel, Where She Has Gone, Vittorio returns to his native village with hopes of rediscovering his roots. But it was not Riccis intention simply to write about ethnicity: My original idea was to explore an intense relationship between a brother and a sister. The novel builds slowly, exploding in a shocking scene of incest. The Boston Globe called Vittorios journey a brilliant study of the way shame is passed down through generations.

Not one to shy from difficult material, for his highly anticipated fourth novel Ricci took on the life of Jesus, knowing he was tackling a very taboo subject. It was also one close to his heart. Jesus was a kind of ideal hero figure to him as a boy going to Catholic school; at the age of eight he dreamed of being a priest. In his teens he began to feel his commitment to Christianity was too tepid, and joined an evangelical group to see if it would feel more real, but the sense of failure was ineluctable. At university, he went through a strong intellectual rejection of the religion, but continued to search for a middle ground that could acknowledge the cultural importance of Christianity as well as the strength of the figure of Jesus himself.

With the historical novel Testament, Ricci wanted to get close to the source and find a Jesus who made sense outside the confines of church dogma, not only for people like him with an ambivalent relationship to their own religious upbringing, but to encourage readers in general to think about the moral and religious issues that inform our culture. He wanted to explore what might have been the real person behind the stories and the myths, a charismatic Jewish leader with single-minded vision and some revolutionary teachings, and a special kind of energy. While other writers have given us their contemporary take on Jesus, Ricci also took away the divine element and approached him from a strictly human angle. He succeeded in creating a believable, moving and compelling portrait of Jesus. Still, he agrees it was an ambitious idea: As a writer, you spend a lot of time alone in a room and you think you can do anything.Four years later you come out in public and you realize what youve done.

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Origin Of Species

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The crater held a circle of stars above them as if they were closed up in a snow globe, a private cosmos. He thought of Darwin sleeping out on the pampas during his Beagle trip, a middle-class white kid traveling the world, the first of the backpackers. It was only afterwards, really, that he had made any sense of what he had seen.

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