The Children’s Train

Written by Viola Ardone
Review by Janice Ottersberg

In 1946 Italy, those living in the south are severely impoverished by the war. A children’s train will be taking groups of hungry, poor children to families in the north who can feed and care for them. Antonietta and her son Amerigo sit before a recruiter. “Are you sure you want him? Look at this kid. He was sent by God to punish us!” Antonietta is a cold and aloof mother, overburdened with poverty. Amerigo is an endearing seven-year-old who is fixated on shoes – shoes without holes, shoes with holes, no shoes, new shoes. He has always worn other people’s shoes that never fit. Amerigo’s life is on the streets, collecting rags and trapping sewer rats to sell. He is frightened to leave his world, even with promises of food and a better life.

Upon his arrival, Derna adopts him, and he happily settles in along with Derna’s cousin Rosa, Alcide, and their three sons. Alcide, a piano tuner and instrument maker, takes a special interest in him. Amerigo loves music, and Alcide makes him a violin, which becomes his most treasured possession. His time with his new family must end, and the children are returned to southern Italy. “We are split into two halves now,” Amerigo says to his friend. His mother is unchanged, but he loves her while his heart aches for Alcide and his other family. This begins his life struggle of his heart torn in two.

Amerigo tells his story in first person. The narrative doesn’t work well in depicting a child speaking, since it is unrealistic at times for a seven-year-old. Later the narrative switches to second person when Amerigo speaks to his mother. While I disliked the style, once the story takes off, the plot is so engaging that the way the story is told fades into the background, making this a great read.