The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke

by Steven Hayward
386 pages,
ISBN: 0676977030

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First Novels
by W.P. Kinsella

The cumbersome title encircles a story that in less capable hands could have run madly off in all directions. It is set in Toronto in the summer of 1933, a time when there is magic in the air, when the threat of Nazism hovers like a bad smell, and when Toronto's radical labour movement is struggling to gain a foothold. Lucio Burke, one of three boys born fifteen years before on the Burke kitchen table within hours of each other, has an unusual encounter with a bird and a baseball. There are enough potentially significant events to keep an academic salivating for weeks. A young man named Bloomberg (Leopold Bloom?) traipses about Toronto promising to give away a baseball to anyone who can hit his pitching. When the day comes, it is spoiled by a giant bird of unknown origins, who lands and sits on the ball. Frightened into the air, it snatches Bloomberg's thick glasses from his face, only to have Lucio Burke pick up the ball and with a spectacular throw hit the bird (shades of Dave Winfield), forcing him to drop the glasses. But in one sense it is too late; Bloomberg has vanished never to be seen again. This sweet-natured weirdness sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Lucio and his best friend Dubie (also born on the Burke kitchen table) are madly attracted to next door neighbour Ruthie Nodleman, known as Ruthie the Commie for her feminism, her reading of Marx, and her determination to organize the female garment workers of Toronto. What follows is a delightful conglomeration of events involving young love in all its facets, friendship, magic and mitzvahs. Toronto in 1933 is like an additional character, vividly portrayed, warts and all. A beautiful reading experience.

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