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A best book of 2019 Writer's Bone
Selected for the October 2019 Scribbler box

"Beautiful, mesmerizing, consoling, and under immaculate control."

—Alexander Chee, author of The Queen of the Night

"Marco Rafalà ignites all kinds of fires in this brightly burning novel."

—Idra Novey, author of Those Who Knew

"A blazing debut by an important new Italian-American voice."

—Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men

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Sicilian-American Author, Game Writer, Fiction, Roleplaying Games, Narrative Games

Marco Rafalà is a first-generation Sicilian American novelist, musician, and writer for award-winning tabletop role-playing games. He earned his MFA in Fiction from The New School and is a cocurator of the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series in New York City. Born in Middletown, Connecticut, he now lives in Brooklyn, New York. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review and LitHub. How Fires End is his debut novel.

Jeffrey Mosier Photography


How Fires End

How Fires End

Available in print, ebook, and audiobook!


A dark secret born out of World War II lies at the heart of a Sicilian American family in this emotional and sweeping saga of guilt, revenge, and, ultimately, redemption.

After soldiers vacate the Sicilian hillside town of Melilli in the summer of 1943, the locals celebrate, giving thanks to their patron saint, Sebastian. Amid the revelry, all it takes is one fateful moment for the destiny of nine-year-old Salvatore Vassallo to change forever. When his twin brothers are killed playing with an unexploded mortar shell, Salvatore’s faith is destroyed. As the family unravels, and fear ignites among their neighbors that the Vassallo name is cursed, one tragedy begets another.


Desperate to escape this haunting legacy, Salvatore accepts the help of an Italian soldier with fascist ties who ushers him and his sister, Nella, into a new beginning in America. In Middletown, Connecticut, in the immigrant neighborhood known as Little Melilli, these three struggle to build new lives for themselves. But a dangerous choice to keep their secrets hidden erupts in violence decades later. When Salvatore loses his inquisitive American-born son, David, they all learn too late the price sons pay for their fathers’ wars.


Written with elegiac prose, How Fires End delves into the secret wars of men; the sins they cannot bury; and a life lived in fear of who will reveal them, who will survive them, and who will forgive them.

Advance Praise


“Rafalà seems to love language as much as his characters love their farms and their patron saint. That’s a powerful combination, and it fuels a compelling novel.” —New York Journal of Books

“Marco Rafalà’s debut novel, How Fires End, avoids Mafia tropes for a moving depiction of multigenerational loss and love, grief and gratitude, heartbreak and hope. —Kirkus Reviews

"... [A] story as old as the movement of people and the bellicose nature of humanity... told with refreshing compassion and poise ..." —Times of Sicily

"A true labor of love." —Italian America Magazine

"Marco Rafalà had this story in his bones. A moving family drama that takes plenty of risks." —Writer's Bone

“Remarkable multigenerational historical fiction.” —Historical Novels Review

“Marco Rafalà rouses us to applause with How Fires End. [T]he 'immigrant novel' has a smart and resourceful new proponent."

—The Brooklyn Rail

"Absolutely breathtaking... a poignant reminder of the part history plays in all our lives." —Cultured Vultures

"[A] quintessential Italian American tale that excites us for what more may come from an author who is bound to be an established literary voice of the '80s generation." —Primo Magazine

"Beautiful, mesmerizing, consoling, and under immaculate control, Marco Rafalà's How Fires End is a powerful novel about the religion we create for ourselves as we face that which perhaps even God has not imagined for humanity."

—Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh, The Queen of the Night, and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

"Marco Rafalà ignites all kinds of fires in this brightly burning novel fueled by old vendettas and unresolved resentments. A tremendous, well-crafted debut."

—Idra Novey, award-winning author of Those Who Knew and Ways to Disappear

"How Fires End is a raised fist of a novel, one filled with men’s brutal tenderness and tender brutality. It is both a subtle and powerful indictment of the silences between generations and a poignant testament to the bond between sons and fathers of all kinds. A blazing debut by an important new Italian-American voice."

—Christopher Castellani, author of Leading Men

"How Fires End explores the complicated bind of family, attempting to answer the age old question of where family history ends and the self begins. This is a beautiful meditation on time, memory, and consequences."

—Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman

"How Fires End struck me at my core. Part mourning, part witness, this is a story that yearns to make peace with the endless, brutal wounds of war. It will haunt me with an unanswerable question: how do we heal from the pain of the unspoken when a family’s secrets are carried—across seas and generations—out of love and protection?”

—Natalia Sylvester, author of Everyone Knows You Go Home and Chasing the Sun

"What happens when the fires we nurture with hate die? How Fires End is a breathtaking, multi-generational story of fathers and sons who yearn for warmth amid the ashes of their own secrets and lies. Generous, bold, epic, Marco Rafalà's novel is a triumph."

—Brando Skyhorse, award-winning author of The Madonnas of Echo Park and Take This Man: A Memoir

"How Fires End commences with such authority and grace that it hardly seems the work of a debut novelist. There is a great weight in the tenderness and simplicity of the voice of the narrators. It has gravitas without any sacrifice of beauty."

—Victoria Redel, author of Before Everything and LA Times Best Book of the Year, Loverboy

"This is a wondrous novel that burns with secret histories, arcing across space and time, voiced by characters who speak their separate truths with resilience and dignity. A gorgeous debut."

—M Dressler, author of The Deadwood Beetle and The Last to See Me

"A rich and unforgettable novel about heritage and loss, about our futures and our roots. How Fires End is intense and absorbing—a virtuoso performance by Marco Rafalà."

—Kristopher Jansma, author of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards and Why We Came to the City

"What happens when faith blinds us to our own humanity? How Fires End is part war story and aftermath, part mythology, a lamentation shot-through with melancholy and pathos. Rafalà writes of the mothers and fathers and sons and daughters of Melilli, Sicily, with such care and tenderness that to read it was like listening to the breathing out and collapse of an accordion—history folding over onto itself, sighing out a mournful story on notes of stone and stars. We yearn with David, grieve with Salvatore, shoulder the yoke of history with Vincenzo, console and heal with Nella, as each tells a story of wars waged, battles lost, and secrets kept."

—Susan Bernhard, author of Winter Loon

"This multilayered, astonishing novel takes you into the heart of a dark family legacy and twists you up with emotion on every page. How Fires End is beautifully written and startling in its revelations. I can't stop thinking about this heart-breaking book."

—Crystal King, author of Feast of Sorrow and The Chef's Secret

"A haunting debut novel that shows us how the dark secrets of the old country can never be repressed. This is a poignant and powerful immigrants' tale of reckoning, tragedy and the search for redemption in a Sicilian family that learns it can never shed the claws of its past, even in this new American life."

—Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of Sarong Party Girls

"Marco Rafalà’s How Fires End is a devastating and gorgeously conceived novel of tragedy and redemption spanning generations and continents. The past is never the past for the Vassallo family; it stalks and curses their lives, first in Sicily and then decades later in America. Heartbreaking and beautifully wrought, Rafalà’s haunting debut is a must-read exploration of the perils of personal and political histories and how we try to overcome them."

—Hannah Lillith Assadi, author of Sonora

"Marco Rafalà speaks to the Sicilian-American experience as no other since his fellow of The New School, Mario Puzo. He writes with care, wisdom, and compassion. Sharing in his novel is a sharing in the better part of living."

—John Reed, author of A Still Small Voice and Free Boat: Collected Lies and Love Poems



Montclair, NJ

January 13, 2020 at 6:30 PM

Halfway There Reading Series at Red Eye Cafe

94 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042

With Julia Phillips, Ysabel González, & Randon Billings Noble

North Little Rock, AR

January 18, 2020 at 6:30 PM

Argenta Reading Series at Argenta United Methodist Church

421 Main Street, North Little Rock, AR 72114

With Erin Hoover

January 23, 2020 at 12:30 PM

Western Washington University

516 High Street, Bellingham, WA 98225

Bellingham, WA

January 23, 2020 at 7:00 PM

Village Books

1200 11th Street, Bellingham, WA 98225

With Rena Priest

Lopez Island, WA

January 24, 2020 at 5:30 PM

Lopez Island Library

2225 Fisherman Bay Road, Lopez Island, WA 98261

San Francisco, CA

January 26, 2020 at 6:00 PM

Bazaar Writers Salon at Bazaar Cafe

5927 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121

Redmond, WA

January 30, 2020 at 2:00 PM

Redmond Library

15990 NE 85th Street, Redmond, WA 98052

Lopez Island, WA

January 31, 2020 at 5:30 PM

Lopez Island Library

2225 Fisherman Bay Road, Lopez Island, WA 98261

A special evening of table-top roleplaying and a discussion about working in the gaming industry.

Denver, CO

February 8, 2020 at 3:00 PM

At The Inkwell at Bookbar

4280 Tennyson Street, Denver, CO 80212

Brooklyn, NY

February 10, 2020 at 8:00 PM

Franklin Park Reading Series at Franklin Park

618 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn, NY 11238

With Amber Sparks, Nicolette Polek, Rye Curtis, Amanda Leduc, Stacie Evans

New York, NY

February 15, 2020 at 2:00 PM

Italian American Writers Association Reading

at NYPL Mulberry Street Branch

10 Jersey Street, New York, NY, 10012

New York, NY


March 14, 2020 at 7:00 PM

Crystal Radio Sessions at KGB Bar

85 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003

New York, NY


March 16, 2020 at 7:00 PM

Tables of Contents at Egg

109a N 3rd St, Brooklyn, NY 11249

With Phil Kaye & Miranda Popkey

Charlottesville, VA

CANCELLED — Read statement here

March 19, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Virginia Festival of the Book

at UVa Bookstore

400 Emmet Street S

Charlottesville, VA 22903

Fallout: Fiction on the Personal Impacts of War

With David Brendan Hopes

Moderator: Bruce Holsinger

Montclair, NJ

CANCELLED — Read statement here

March 28, 2020 at 11:15 AM

Montclair Literary Festival

Montclair, NJ 07042

Immigrant Voices: Carrying Stories Across Borders and Generations

With Neda Toloui-Semnani & Stephanie Jimenez

Moderator: Hafizah Geter

Storrs, CT


April 6, 2020 at 7:00 PM

Roar Reading Series at UCONN Barnes & Noble

1 Royce Circle (Dog Lane), Storrs, CT 06269

Louisville, KY


April 10, 2020 at 7:00 PM

InKY Reading Series at The Bard's Town

1801 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY 40205

With Michael Baumann

Des Moines, IA


April 17, 2020 at 6:30 PM

Beaverdale Books

2629 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50310

With John Domini




Lucy Silag

Little A


Elizabeth Shreve

Shreve Williams


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