Sunday, August 17, 2014

What I Read in July Part VII

What I Read in July Part VII . . .

Elizabeth Street: A novel based on true eventsElizabeth Street: A novel based on true events by Laurie Fabiano -- Historical Fiction

Life in southern Italy post-unification is supposed to be filled with promise but unfortunately that turns out not to be the case for Giovanna and Nunzio. The two are cousins and sweethearts and are finally able to marry after Nunzio finishes college in the north. However, there are no jobs for an engineer in the south so Nunzio must go to America, the land of dreams. The women of Scilla see the Statue of Liberty as a puttana (whore), stealing their men from them. Giovanna waits and waits for Nunzio to return as she learns to become a midwife and help women in their village. When tragedy strikes, Giovanna heads to New York. Life in New York isn't any better and is sometimes worse with extreme prejudice against Italians and wicked extortionists from their own 'hood threatening anyone who doesn't obey. When one of her own flesh and blood is threatened, Giovanna will risk her own life and hard-earned success to rescue her loved one.

I really liked some of the details in the story, especially Scilla and Coney Island. I thought the strongest sections of the book were Anna's memories. The writing really shines in those sections. It seems like the author wanted to write a memoir but couldn't without more information. I didn't care for the writing style. It seemed very detached and matter of fact for most of the book and I couldn't connect emotionally to the characters. I finally found myself interested in the story when the action started. It seemed so improbable and I thought for sure it was fiction after I looked up The Black Hand, but the author claims it's true. I learned a lot about crime and all the gritty details of life in New York in the early 1900s but I just didn't really enjoy the story. It was too depressing. I'm colored by my own family's experience which was very positive. The characters in the story are a generation or two older (closer to my great-great grandparents) than my grandmother and my family settled in central Massachusetts. My grandmother's family went from farmers to restaurant owners and much loved and respected members of the community. My grandfather's parents and grandparents probably would relate to Giovanna and her struggles a bit more. My family became almost fully Americanized but maintained allegiance to their traditional Neapolitan foods and went to Mass every Sunday.

I had a hard time relating to Giovanna and Angelina at first. I come from a long line of strong Italian women who did what they had to do to survive and held their heads up. I don't see my great-grandmother or her mother collapsing like Giovanna. They got along without their husbands OK but I know my great-grandparents didn't marry for love and I doubt my great-great grandmother did either, so perhaps they would have reacted like Giovanna. I liked Giovanna much better towards the end of the book when she pretended to be a strega (witch). THAT I can see my ancestors doing. My great-grandmother's mother looks very formidable in the one and only picture we have of her. I liked Nunzio much more and felt bad for him that he was so looked down on because of where he was from. I didn't care for Rocco much at all. Like his wife, I thought he was a bit stupid, but I also thought they were both stupid for letting it go so long. She should have at least told the lawyer. He would know which cops were crooked and if anything could be done. I didn't like Angelina in Anna's memories at first. Anna had the opposite relationship with her Nanny that I had with my Nonnie, I just couldn't believe her. She didn't seem like any of the Italian Nonni I know. Once I found out what happened to her, I understood why she was like that.

This book was just too dark and depressing for me. I'd like to see an uplifting story about an Italian immigrant family!

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