The Saint of Lost Things

  • 2005
  • Algonquin (Hardcover), Berkeley (Paperback)
  • ISBN: 978-1565124332

A young Italian immigrant couple and their family and friends pursue their dreams and navigate loss in 1950s America

It's 1953 in the tight-knit Italian neighborhood in Wilmington, Delaware. In the shadow of St. Anthony's Church, named for the patron saint of lost things, lives the Grasso family. Young Maddalena, a seamstress pregnant with her first child, misses the rolling hills and olive groves of the small Italian town where she was born and longs for her sisters and her mother and father—all so distant, so far away from America. Maddalena's mercurial husband, Antonio, feels lucky to be in the land of opportunity and dreams only of opening his own restaurant, until he becomes unwittingly embroiled in his friends' vengeful plot against a neighbor.

Down the street from the Grassos lives Giulio Fabbri, a shy accordion player, still single at forty, who's lost his beloved parents and has dreams of his own: to leave the shelter of his childhood home and reinvent himself.

When Maddalena falls dangerously ill and Antonio's and Giulio's faith is challenged, the prayers of these troubled but steadfast people are heard, and fate and circumstances conspire to answer them in unforeseeable ways.

With great affection and a profound understanding of human frailty and perseverance, The Saint of Lost Things brings to life a bittersweet time when the world seemed more intimate and knowable, and the American Dream simpler, nobler, and within reach.

Other editions

The Saint of Lost Things has also been published in The Netherlands (AmboAnthos) and in Germany (Goldmann).


Read "Close to Where You Want to Be," an essay Christopher wrote about the story behind The Saint of Lost Things.

Reviews and Praise

"...[an] elegant, leisurely tale about dreams and disappointments ... the natural, easy beauty of [Castellani's] prose captures the Italian-American immigrant community of a bygone era." Publishers Weekly

"... Castellani skillfully captures the Italian immigrant experience at mid-20th century. Castellani's is a fresh voice in Italian American fiction, not as prevelant today. This lovely, haunting, unhurried story will have readers clamoring for more." Jo Manning, Miami Beach, FL, for Library Journal

"The author excels at capturing the quiet yet absorbing texture of everyday life, the intricate maneuvering among people who love each other but who all have their own agendas. ... [T]he real drama lies in the slow accretion of changes that forge [Antonio and Maddalena] into an enduring couple, mostly happy and more or less fulfilled by their far from perfect union. [T]hose who appreciate clear-eyed, unsentimental fiction will find its realism fresh and moving." Kirkus Reviews

"...Not all dreams are lost in this fine novel that lovingly evokes a time in America's past that many people think of as idyllic but is revealed by the author to be filled with complexity, failure, misunderstanding, and some hard-earned success—not unlike our own." Booklist

"A mesmerizing portrait of life in a 1950s Italian immigrant community... Castellani gracefully addresses the bad with the good. In glimpses of the dark side of the American Dream, Castellani subtly but effectively reveals capitalism's toll on immigrants and how they manage to survive and sometimes triumph. For anyone who's ever lost something or someone they loved, it's hard not to feel for Maddalena and Julian as they try to learn to live with their memories rather than in them. The difference in time, place and characters make this novel enjoyable even if you haven't read Castellani's first. But chances are, you'll be so engrossed by The Saint of Lost Things that you'll want to pick up A Kiss From Maddalena, too." The Boston Herald (Read the full review - PDF)

"The Saint of Lost Things throws us back to 1953 and the story of Maddalena Grasso with carefully calibrated passion and vigor. What lifts this story above the tried and tested stranger-in-a-strange-land genre is Castellani's honesty as a writer. In pitch perfect prose, Castellani conveys the dilemma faced by all of us in general, and immigrants in particular, when people, places and good times become a thing of the past, unrepeatable, but unforgettable. ... Castellani's gift lies in his ability to fall into a character's soul and render their struggles without falling prey to melodrama. ... A warm, empathetic novel replete with convincing characters and vanishing ways, The Saint of Lost Things brings back the days when circumstances, happy as they may be, honor the past as the envelope of dreams is pressed to the fullest extent." Catherine Parnell for The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"The 'things' lost within the pages of this well-crafted, thoughtfully realized novel of Italian Americans in early 1950s Wilmington, Delaware, occupy a complex and fertile middle ground of ordinary lives located between the quotidian and the transcendent. Christopher Castellani's The Saint of Lost Things offers readers an ever-shifting mix of loss and gain, rendered with conviction through acutely observed descriptions of manners and customs within a community that still honors village life and informs each of the lives of the novel's three principals... The Saint of Lost Things offers a convincing conclusion that knows enough about fate and contingency, which is just right for the moment." Reamy Jansen, for Speakeasy

"[A] richly emotional story....Throughout, Castellani displays a graceful, lyrical style that perfectly illuminates this often poignant, always rewarding tale of hard-won love....Beautifully written and tenderly told, this is a captivating story that will resonate with readers, especially those who are just a generation or two away from the immigrant experience." Carole Goldberg, for The Hartford Courant

"Castellani does a brilliant job of bringing the Italian immigrant experience to life. Refreshingly, his female characters are as strong as his males. He doesn't flinch from showing this world honestly... [A] gently unfolding tale. This brand new second work will certainly win equal honors [to A Kiss from Maddalena]. Castellani writes like a cinematographer. The reader can clearly see the neighborhood and its occupants, smell the cooking and feel the jolts on the bus. The Saint of Lost Things is a wholesome, family tale with nothing offensive and an optimistic ending. It could easily translate into the perfect family movie. There aren't many of those around." Cherie Thiessen, for January Magazine

"...[an] arresting sequel. As the title indicates, loss is the central theme of the novel, a fact that symbolically asserts itself through the periodic appearance of St. Anthony's, a church dedicated to the patron saint of lost things. In Castellani's nuanced vision, loss comes in many forms besides the usual immigrant narrative leitmotif, which is the loss of ancestral culture... Castellani [does not] ignore the loss of ancestral culture experienced by literary immigrants; the loss of italianità is directly implicated in each of the losses [experienced by the characters]. What makes Castellani unique is his refusal to render a facile, straight-line journey from the Old World to the New. Rather, he combines these familiar constructs in original and refreshing ways. In refiguring "Old World" and "New World," Castellani suggests that neither exists in an unproblematic form. No character is able fully to forget the Old World past or wholly to embody a New World present. Characters must find strength out of the continual exchange between past and present, between Italy and America, and—as Maddalena wishes for her children—between "looking back" and "forgetting." This complex dynamic—traceable in each of the book's protagonists—gives characters a rich complexity and multidimensionality often lacking in early Italian American immigrant narratives. The Saint of Lost Things is a decidedly up-to-date rendering of the immigrant story. In a deft technique, flashbacks render the disjunctures and fabrications of memory, while conversations recall the smart dialogue of Tony Ardizzone's The Evening News or even Don DeLillo's Underworld. Meanwhile, in Castellani's fictive vision, the mythic, almost magical narrative realm of the immigrant tale is renovated by neon signs, Sinatra records, and boisterous restaurant scenes. Thematically, the novel suggests that nothing is ever completely lost: the past is always able to haunt and to heal in unexpected ways. Aesthetically, the novel suggests something else: that the Italian American immigrant narrative is itself not a "lost thing" but, rather, is simply in need of able reworkings like Castellani's." Steven J. Belluscio, Borough of Manhattan Community College/The City University of New York, for Italian Americana

"A natural storyteller, warm-hearted and instinctual, Christopher Castellani has fashioned an engaging plot with writing that is dead-on and characters who reward you with their genuine humanity. [They] are so real they seem to leave the fog of their breath on the page." Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

"What makes The Saint of Lost Things so captivating is its marvelous cast of humble yet profoundly individual characters. Beautifully, and movingly, Castellani shows an uncanny empathy for the American immigrant experience. Without ever straying into stereotype, he conveys vividly what it feels like to yearn for a lost, familiar past while striving desperately to create a home and a future in a new world." Julia Glass, National Book Award-winning author of Three Junes

"The Saint of Lost Things is a moving evocation of the Italian-American experience, told with grace, compassion, and uncompromising honesty. Christopher Castellani is a gifted novelist with a sharp eye and a big heart." Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and Election