Title: The Wager
Author: Donna Jo Napoli
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Concepts: wants and needs, scarcity, poverty, wealth, incentives
Review: Don Giovanni had grown up accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, complete with a castle, exquisite foods, servants, and extravagant parties. Although he lost his parents at a young age and missed them terribly, he liked to think that he carried on with their values, especially their generosity, love of the arts, and carefree ways. All that changed, however, when the earthquake struck and an enormous tidal wave decimated the city, including every source of Don Giovanni’s wealth and support. Overnight, he had become destitute.
As a beggar, Don Giovanni experienced months of intense hunger, cold, physical pain, hard labor, and humiliation. When a handsome stranger came his way and offered him a magic purse that could produce an unlimited amount of gold coins, Don Giovanni had trouble resisting, despite his gut feeling that he was dealing with the devil. Surely the ability of that purse to meet his material needs would be worth the discomfort of satisfying the devil’s one condition: Don Giovanni could not bathe, shave, comb his hair, or change his clothes for three years, three months, and three days.
Adapted from the folktale Bearskin, this novel shines as a delightful blend of exciting action, nauseating revulsion, and meaningful reflection. Thoroughly entwined in the plot is the importance of economic incentives in influencing the decision-making process not only for Don Giovanni, but also the assorted characters who cross his path. Be forewarned, though, that with its emphasis on Don Giovanni’s steady physical decline into filth, decay, and putrefaction, this book is certainly best left for those readers with strong stomachs.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children