Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Wager by Donna Jo Napoli

The moment felt classic. Recognizable. He could almost walk away from this trap. It had to be a trap. Did Pandora feel like this when she accepted the fateful box?
Don Giovanni has everything made for him. He's rich (at least he thinks he is), he has friends (or at least he thinks he does), people adore him (or, he thinks they do), and he's handsome (and so also does everyone else think.). But when a giant tsunami hits Sicily- and his town- his wealth is washed away just like the town. All of a sudden he's penniless, friendless, and a beggar in strange towns where no one knows who he is.
Until the man approaches him. He offers him a white purse that will contain as much money as Don Giovanni wants.
"But there's a catch."
The man is, in fact the devil. But instead of the classic "I give you this purse, you give me your soul," agreement, the devil offers something more interesting- to him. Don Giovanni can keep the purse, but he has to go three years, three months, and three days without washing, changing his clothes, trimming his beard, or combing his hair. If he can go that long, he'll be free AND he can keep the purse. If he breaks the rules? He forfeits his soul.
At first it's fairly easy. The money can pay for a room in the inn.. he doesn't even have to leave! But when he starts discouraging other customers, he learns it's a tad harder than it seems. And when people start running from him, when he starts reeking so bad he himself can't stand the stench, when he's shunned by everyone and everything except a dog named Cani, he learns just how horrible the wager he made is.
Freedom. Money could buy a slave freedom, but no amount of money could free Don Giovanni.
This was an excellent book. It is a fairy tale re-write (which of course gives it bonus points) of a fairy tale I love. And it takes place in Sicily. Which, according to the descriptions in this book, is lovely. Besides that, it was well written, and the author makes you feel very sympathetic for Don Giovanni. He's a kind person, really. For the first couple chapters, you are sort of "eh... he's a spoiled brat..." but then during the later chapters, you realize that he really changes and becomes, well, human again. I'd give this book five stars.

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