Can a restaurant called “Paradiso,” the evocative power of food lovingly prepared and the gift of a tropical flower in the middle of a Boston winter rekindle a love challenged by separation, infidelity and loss?
They begin their lives together on a windswept bluff overlooking the Caribbean on the island of Trinidad, making love in the humid night as breezes wafting over them carry the fragrance of frangipani and the roar of the night rains. But all too soon, war disrupts not only their passion, but their dreams for the future. Navy Seabee Al Dante ships out on a destroyer to the South Pacific and Rose, his wife of only two years, returns home alone to the cold winter of Boston.
When his ship is hit, Al survives—but his injuries leave him a cripple with shattered bones and a crushed spirit. His homecoming is not what either he or Rose imagined. A son he has never seen runs away from him in fear. A wife who was only a girl when he left has borne and nurtured their child and made her way in the world. After three years of keeping from each other the fear and loneliness and longing they had faced alone, they no longer know one another.
Will they make their way back to what they had shared in their island refuge? Or was that time, as Rose admits to herself in her darkest moment, “a fairy tale, a story that had happened to someone else, not me and Al”?
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The food and the wine were as abundant as they always were at our place. You wouldn’t have known we were at war. Looking around the table, we still had everyone there. My parents and Al’s, in their places of honor, their bodies shrunken and wrinkled but their minds and their tongues still sharp. My sister-in-law Cookie balancing her youngest grandchild on her lap while she ate.
“I don’t want to let her go,” she protested when her son Vincent offered to hold the baby so she could eat her soup.
My son Mike, a senior in high school, freshly showered after his football game, basking in the aftermath of a victory he had secured with his field goal kick and devouring every course—piling his plate high with manicotti after the antipasto and escarole soup, then taking two servings of the turkey and sweet potatoes. Al, his face flushed from the morning in the kitchen and then two hours on the football field, but his back straight and his eyes clear as he took in the scene. Even Toni, taking tiny bites because her braces hurt—how stupid of the orthodontist to put them in right before Thanksgiving—even she was making an effort to enjoy the meal and the family.
I describe them all now because it’s important to me to remember that meal and that moment when we were all together and didn’t know yet what was ahead for our family, for our country. Because by the next Thanksgiving, two places would be empty at the table.