On a small dilapidated hillside farm in southern Italy, curmudgeon Claudio Bianchi lives a simple life with his few animals, fending off his only regular visitor, the mailman, who talks too much and rudely asks to hear Bianchi’s poetry. (Bianchi writes poetry occasionally, but only for himself.) One morning, a pregnant golden-white unicorn appears, seeming to choose Bianchi’s farm as the place of birth for her unborn calf. Soon, word gets out, and Bianchi must protect his new-found inspiration from hordes of reporters, television crews, animal rights activists, trophy hunters, and the Calabrian ’Ndràngheta mob.
Magical realism at its best, In Calabria is a modern incarnation of the unicorn fable! Lyrical and sweet, Beagle’s elegant prose reinforces the quiet joy of an old man’s attempt to capture the impossible magic of a moment through poetry. The unicorn is an embodiment of all that is sacred, pure, powerful, and free, starkly contrasted against the earthy farm with its old goat and three-legged cat. But although Bianchi cannot fathom the unicorn’s presence, his time with her kindles a delicate passion for the magic of the mundane in his own life.
The plot employs simple archetypes, including a mustache-twirling villain and a new love for Bianchi twenty years younger, which taken out of context might be bothersome, but Beagle uses these tropes to his advantage in such a short, simple, and gently profound story.
Recommended for fans of heartfelt imaginative fairy tales like Howl’s Moving Castle, The Neverending Story, and Stardust!
“He would indeed have taken it for an illusion, if Cherubino, anarchist and atheist like all goats, had not remained kneeling for sometime afterward, before getting to his feet, shaking himself and glancing briefly at Bianchi before wandering off.”