This powerfully-written first novel from Ukrainian author Anastasiia Marsiz is set in and around Cupra Marittima, a small seaside town on Italy’s Adriatic coast. So closely is the area described, the reader could find their way around without difficulty. They might easily go there expecting to find the Chalet Martina, a seafront restaurant opening onto the beach. To enter the restaurant is to step into the territory of fiction, but in Marsiz’s expert hands the boundary is crossed unconsciously. At the Chalet, we meet Martina Marino, her husband Adriano, their two sons and two daughters – about each of whom there is a story to be lovingly told.
Even before our first encounter with Martina, we have met Ernesto Bruno and his grandmother, Cecilia. Ernesto, Italian but with a Gambian father, was orphaned at birth. A naïve eighteen-year-old when we first meet him, he is to become the Big Fellow of the book’s title as he simultaneously becomes a champion boxer and seeks to uncover the truth of how both his parents died within a short time of each other. He is big in spirit too, providing aid and support for several of those around him when they run into difficulties of their own – and for the unforgettable “Dog,” an abandoned stray when she first wanders into his life.
The novel also has its villains … and a surprising – even shocking – denouement.