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The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke

It’s a summer afternoon in 1933 when our hero, Lucio Burke, knocks a great bird out of the Toronto sky with a single, perfect throw. Thus it is that Lucio finds himself pulled into history—into contact with a radicalized labour movement, anti-Semitism, and Mussolini’s fascism—and into a city alive with new immigrants, Jews, Italians, Irish, and Chinese, who are dreaming and working their way to a brand new life. On hand to observe this incredible chain of events is nineteen-year-old Ruthie the Commie—gorgeous, fearsome, and convinced that love and social justice are both just around the corner. And the day she seduces Lucio, his best friend and next-door-neighbour, Dubie, declares his love for Ruthie. What follows is a story about young love, friendship, the nature of the miraculous, and a quest to change the world.


Winner of the Grinzane Cavour Award for Best Debut Novel (Italy)
Finalist for the Northern Ohio Arts Achievement Award

“The genius of Steven Hayward…is to take the daily slipshod passage
of trivial-to-traumatic events, present it as pure storytelling and distill from it the essence of what it means to live, through times both terrible and transcendent… It’s been years since I’ve seen this much
fresh talent and wisdom.”—The Globe and Mail

“an engaging writer, with an offbeat sense of humour and a knack for making us care…There are traces of Bernard Malamud’s baseball fable, The Natural…and some John Irving, too.”—Joel Yanofsky, The National Post

The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke is full of colorful, larger-than-life characters and richly rendered action. Steven Hayward has created a mythic Toronto that will live vividly in the reader’s imagination.”
—Dan Chaon, author of You Remind Me of Me

“Reading this book is an immersive, unforgettable experience.
You’ll want to share it with everyone you know. It’s sweet without being cloying. It’s graceful and charming, hilarious and touching. Hayward has knocked this one out of the park.”—Vancouver Sun

“a great story, filled with ample humour and affecting tragedy. Hayward captures the prewar era and the angst of passing into adulthood with great assurance in this gem of a novel.” —Edmonton Journal

“In a debut novel, Depression-era Toronto comes alive as a magical and
slightly unreal landscape. The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke is lively and fun and just a little corny, like Mordecai Richler’s Duddy Kravitz painted in the hues of Norman Rockwell–it’s unmistakably fantastical fiction.”
Time Magazine Canada

The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke is a wonderful novel, funny and
touching, and full of more sheer invention than most novelists stretch
over a career. It is a great achievement.”
—Paul Quarrington, author of Galveston and Whale Music

Stephen Finucan on The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke

With September here and class back in session, The Afterword asked several Canadian authors to answer this question:  If you could add one book to the high school curriculum  – a book which students couldn’t graduate with until it was read – what would it be, and why?

Short story writer and novelist Stephen Finucan discusses his pick for the curriculum: Steven Hayward’s The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke.

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