What would you do if you found out you had inoperable cancer and only had a few months to live? Would you commit to a heavy regimen of chemotherapy and medical treatment? Would you work with a naturapath to transform your diet? Would you continue your tradition of starting off the day by eating two freshly-fried doughnuts prepared by your father-in-law, even if your naturopath considers them to be “poison?” Do you tell your young children about your condition? Do you let them see you get sicker and sicker? Or do you take matters into your own hands?
These are some of the dilemmas facing Lucio Battistini, the protagonist of the novel, 100 Days of Happiness by Italian author Fausto Brizzi. At the beginning of the book, Lucio is living out of the stock room of his father-in-law’s bakery in Rome, having been kicked out of his house by his estranged wife after what Lucio considers to be a minor bit of infidelity. He is living a mediocre life, working in an unsatisfying job and failing to be the father he wants to be to his children, third-grader Lorenzo and first-grader Eva. But when he receives a dire diagnosis, Lucio decides he has about 100 days to reconcile with the wife who remains the love of his life, to set his children on the right paths in life when he won’t be around to support them, and to generally become the man he always wanted to be.
So while this may sound like a depressing topic for a novel, the writing is actually surprisingly light and funny for its topic. Lucio maintains a good sense of humor throughout his trials. For example, he describes his accommodations on a trip out of town in this way:
I’m sure that the hotel on the highway past Salerno, which deserved half a star at most, was built near a world mosquito convention of some kind. We spent the eying hemmed in by t he diabolical insets, first in the trattoria and later in the room. We took double with two trundle beds and after ten minutes it was already an encampment, partly because of the luggage and largely because of the war on the mosquitos, which, as everyone knows, is waged by hurling various large blunt objects. (p. 275)
Lucio is also honest, but still light-hearted, about his own foibles. For example, in admitting why he never really capitalized on the fact that in his youth, he was Italy’s youngest water polo champion, he explains:
Swimming has always been my favorite sport, and my speciality was the butterfly, which kids all call the dolphin kick out of an innate sense of logic, because butterflies can’t swim. I never became a real contender because of a basic conflict of interest with the other fully requited love of my life: bread, butter, and jam. (p. 8)
The book works due to Lucio’s humor, honesty, and refusal to become maudlin or a victim of his disease. Rather, he is committed to making amends for his mistakes in the past and to making the most of every one of the limited days that he has remaining.
I really enjoyed the book and the reminder that we determine the quality of our life every day, based on how we use our time and the perceptions we bring to our experience. It’s a lovely journey, traveling with Lucio to fill his final time on Earth with 100 days of happiness. And it inspires me to be grateful for every day, since even the simple things like spending time with people you love or enjoying a fresh doughnut are not guaranteed. I’m trying to spend my summer truly appreciating my daily health and happiness.