Review: Adam’s Breed, by Radclyffe Hall

Gian-Luca’s mother died in childbirth, leaving her illegitimate son to be raised by his grandparents.  Fabio and Teresa live in an Italian community in London; Fabio is a naturalized citizen.  Gian-Luca is “English in the eyes of the law.” He’s different from all the boys in school both because of his ethnic background, and because he has no father.  And worse yet, Teresa sees Gian-Luca as the cause of her daughter’s death, and is unable to show him any affection.  He grows up lonely and searching for love.

Fabio’s salumeria is the one source of beauty in Gian-Luca’s early life:

The shop! All his life Gian-Luca remembered those first impressions of the shop; the size of it, the smell of it, the dim, mysterious gloom of it — a gloom from which strange objects would continually jump out and try to hit you in the face– but above all the smell, that wonderful smell that belongs to the Salumeria.  The shop smelt of sawdust and cheeses and pickles and olives and sausages and garlic; the shop smelt of oil and cans and Chianti and a little of split peas and lentils; the shop smelt of coffee and sour brown bread and very faintly of vanilla; the shop smelt of people, of Fabio’s boot blacking, and of all the boots that went in and out unblacked; it also smelt of Old Compton Street, a dusty, adventurous smell.  (p. 27)

When Gian-Luca leaves school, he begins a career as a waiter, and eventually becomes head waiter in The Doric, London’s finest restaurant.  Gian-Luca is talented and driven, but empty, lacking the emotional and spiritual connections so important to  personal well-being.  His life is a quest for identity, and for love.

Radclyffe Hall brings the Italian immigrant community to life, with delicious food and a rich supporting cast.  I enjoyed getting to know the characters and the early 20th-century restaurant business.  But Adam’s Breed is a melancholy book that explores themes of love, God, and human nature.  By the end it had evolved beyond its initial premise to a moving story of one man’s search for self, and meaning.