Foreword Reviews

The Boston Castrato

It’s a lively American adventure that sparkles with wit and wisdom.

From its darkly picaresque beginning that features a cruel operation that alters a child’s destiny, Colin W. Sargent’s The Boston Castrato tells the strange and captivating tale of a rather different immigrant experience.

In 1906, little Rafaele Pesca, an orphan from Naples, is singing for his supper and loose change. He attracts the attention of Father Diletti, an unsavory priest who wants Rafaele’s voice to be even more distinctive—as a famed castrato. Though the procedure had been outlawed, Diletti performs the castration himself. Once the authorities learn what has happened, they take Rafaele away from Diletti’s clutches and urge the boy to start a new life. They also insist that he never sing again, because his voice is now “disfigured” by the devil.

Following an understandably confusing adolescence, Rafaele makes his way to Boston in 1922. Ambitiously charming, the tall, lanky Rafaele renames himself Raffi Peach and finds work at Boston’s Parker House Hotel. For anyone who might have imagined 1920s Boston to be a bit stuffy and not quite the toddling town of Chicago or New York, The Boston Castrato will likely change that opinion. Bustling with snobs, intellectuals, criminals, immigrants, artists, and a definite LGBT presence, Sargent’s Boston is vivid, violent, quirky, cultured, and peopled with memorable characters.

Raffi’s dreams of success in his adopted city are complicated by his desire to find a sexual identity. He pursues the lovely, compassionate Beatrice, but isn’t quite sure of what he has to offer romantically. Alternating with fictional personalities are characters like Imagist poet Amy Lowell and her longtime partner, actress Ada Russell. Initially suggested to be the “Yankee Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas,” Lowell and Russell share their own unique dynamic and are key players in The Boston Castrato’s plot.

Through personal triumphs and tragedies, Raffi’s support from Amy Lowell’s circle boosts his confidence and broadens his perspective, resulting in a lively American adventure that sparkles with wit and wisdom.

Reviewed by Meg Nola

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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