BOOK REVIEWS

all reviews are by Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk unless otherwise noted

The Boston Italians: A story of pride, perseverance, and paesani  by Stephen Puleo (Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2007) ISBN#9780807050361 (Added 11 Sept 2008)

For those who enjoyed Stephen Puleo's book, Dark Tide, get ready for his newest book - The Boston Italians.

This long-awaited book came out in May 2007 and was well worth the wait. This is a must read for all Italian Americans regardless of whether your immigrant ancestors lived in Boston or not. Puleo tells the story of a group of amazing immigrants - our ancestors. His text is engaging, compassionate, and most of all, accurate. He cites many sources for his information without encumbering the story. His grasp of social history, culture and ethnicity - also his ethnicity - is obvious. His chapter on the anarchists and how their actions affected the immigrant was informational. It provided me with many insights into the beliefs and actions of a small handful of Italian immigrants. Our ancestors not only had to overcome the language barrier, discrimination, and poor living conditions but also the negative image of Italians that many Americans held. The majority of Italian immigrants were devoted to their family, both in America and in the Italy they left behind.

This story is our story. Puleo has provided us with an inside look at the lives of our grandparents, parents and even ourselves. We are descendants of an amazing group of immigrants. They may not have been educated or rich but they had a determination, a pride, and a tenacity that overcame so many obstacles. Like us, Puleo has honored our ancestors by telling their story truthfully and with compassion. thank you Stephen. Submitted by Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk, #93

The Queen of the Big Time (Random House Publishers, 2004) ISBN#140006000 (Added 11 Sept 2008)

This is another wonderful story about immigrant Italian families by the author of Lucia, Lucia. Adriana Trigiani writes about the rich Italian heritage and loyalty to family that is a part of Italian culture. she is a powerful storyteller whose writing style captures you from the very first page. she lovingly tells a story about the Castellano and Zollerano immigrant families, the hardships the had to endure, and their loves gained and lost.

The multi-generational story begins in the early 1920s and centers around the Castellanos, an Italian immigrant family living near Roseto, PA. Roseto is named after their comune in Italy, Roseto Valfortore (hillside covered with roses), in the province of Foggia, region of Puglia. The town in Pennsylvania originated as just a camp with some Italian men who came to find work in the quarries after being rejected in New York and New Jersey because they were Pugliese and had funny accents that Italians in those places could not understand. They positioned their homes in Roseto exactly like they had been in Italy. The story centers around Nella Castelluca, the middle daughter of five, and three generations of her Italian family living and working on their family farm outside of Roseto. The title of the book refers to the village's annual celebration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel - or "the big time." On this occasion the young women compete to be the queen of the pageant and crown the statue of Our Lady before the procession. There are some surprising twists and turns as the main character, Nella, questions the choices that fate has forced her to make. This book would make a pleasant read for those interested in Italian culture.

It is interesting to note that Roseto, PA is the subject of another book called The Roseto Story: An Anatomy of Health by John G. Bruhn, Stewart Wolf, and Remsen Wolff. I have not read this book about a 15-year study on the incidence of heart disease in residents of Roseto compared to other communities. Despite a greater prevalence of obesity in Roseto, and other similar factors, the residents of Roseto were relatively immune to heart disease at the start of the research in 1963 compared to other communities in the study. This book could be an interesting read. Submitted by Marge Panarello DiSciullo, #160

Adam’s Curse, A Future Without Men, By Bryan Sykes; ISBN 0-393-05896-4 [W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London 2004] Science (Added 11 Sept 2008)

     Bryan Sykes is a world renowned geneticist who also authored The Seven Daughters of Eve, reviewed in the Fall/Winter 2006/7 issue of Lo Specchio.  The Seven Daughters of Eve examined the mtDNA which is passed on exclusively from mother to daughter.  Adam’s Curse, A Future Without Men looks at the issue of the deterioration of the Y Chromosome, which is passed on only from father to son.  Mr. Sykes is an authority on DNA and human evolution, and, as a result, his story can be technical at times.  However, since both of these books are concerned with DNA which is closely related to our pursuit of genealogy, I find the information here to be very relevant and interesting.

Here Mr. Sykes attempts to establish the reasons for what he calls “the deterioration of the Y chromosome”, the theory being that the day will come when the Y chromosome will cease to exist.  How shocking is that!

One of the more interesting chapters was “The Blood of the Vikings” where we learn of the conquests by the Viking fleets from the fjords of Norway.  Their influence eventually spread from The Scottish Highlands to the Mediterranean in the search for agricultural lands and food sources, sowing their genetic seeds along the way. 

“The Gay Gene Revisited” was another interesting chapter where Mr. Sykes tries to establish a genetic link to this subject.  Here we learn about the many theories for homosexuality.  Is there a genetic basis?

If you are interested in DNA and its relevance to your genealogy, you might find this an interesting read.  I certainly learned many things I was not aware of such as the fact that color-blindness and hemophilia are inherited the majority of the time by males. 

Marge DiSciullo

The Long Italian Goodbye by Robert Benedetti. [Durbin House Publishers, Dallas. TX, 2005]SBN#1930754663 (Added 11 Sept 2008)

  I picked this book up while I was visiting in San Diego, CA in May 2007. I had gone for a graduation and discovered that during my stay there was going to be a Sicilian Festival in the city. I was unaware of the "Little Italy" section of San Diego. There is a rich Italian culture there and the festival was a wonderful experience. I spent the entire day with great food, music, and people. I met the author of this book, Robert Benedetti, and had a chance to talk with him at length. He grew up in the Oakley Avenue section of Chicago. While the story is not autobiographical Benedetti's childhood experiences certainly have found a place in his book.

The book begins in 1948 with ten-year-old Joey waking to the sounds of his home. The steam radiators, the low rumble of the furnace, water gurgling down the pipes from his grandparents' flat above his, and the milkman delivering the bottles of milk to the back stoop. Benedetti's memories of growing up are delightful and ring true. The story is told through Joey's voice and it is an endearing one. We follow Joey through his daily life and meet a boy who is respectful, industrious, and curious. I enjoyed this book very much and recommend it to our members. It will certainly bring back memories of growing up "Italian" in a time when children grew up in extended families and ethnic neighborhoods. You will certainly see some of yourself and your relatives in his characters. I found that it brought a smile to my face  and many pleasant memories to mind. Submitted by Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk #93

Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo. Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 2003 – ISBN 0-8070-5020-2

It is so amazing that this fascinating story of the Great Molasses Flood that occurred in the North End of Boston in January, 1919 is the first full accounting of the catastrophe. Prior to this book there was little written on the subject except for some magazine and newspaper articles. Stephen Puleo has thoroughly researched all of the information available and crafted an extremely interesting chronicle of the events surrounding the disaster which took 21 lives and injured 150, mostly poor, Italian immigrants and Irish city workers. Stephen has a master’s degree in history, was formerly an award winning newspaper reporter, and has done extensive research on Boston’s North End. He puts the disaster into the perspective of events of the time - WWI, immigration, prohibition, increased anarchist activity, and a relaxed attitude toward big business. 

During WWI the munitions industry was gaining enormous profits from distilling alcohol from molasses which was then used in the production of munitions. A monstrous holding tank was built in 1915 by U.S. Industrial Alcohol (USIA) between Commercial Street and the inner harbor in Boston’s North End to hold the molasses which was off-loaded from ships arriving from the Caribbean. The molasses was then transported by railcars to USIA’s manufacturing facility in East Cambridge for the distillation process. The sheer size of the tank, 50 feet tall by 90 feet in width, overwhelmed and towered over the area between Commercial Street and the harbor. When it was full the tank held 2.3 million gallons, or 26 million pounds, of molasses.   

Boston was the hotbed of anarchist activity and it was during that same period that the arrest and trial of two avowed anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, took place. 

A massive explosion of the tank and resulting wave of molasses destroyed everything in its path. Buildings were moved from their foundations and the steel girders of the Boston Elevated (the “L”) on Commercial Street were bent, twisted and snapped off by the force of the wave. The destruction by the wall of molasses is shown in the book quite graphically in several pictures taken in the aftermath.

 All of the riveting facts in this fascinating story, including the civil court decision on liability that followed the flood, were taken from Stephen Puleo’s exhaustive research on various primary and secondary sources such as the court transcripts of the molasses flood hearings, and newspaper articles from the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and Boston Post.

 I found this book extremely interesting and enlightening and am thankful that Stephen Puleo has finally told the whole story. It is a gripping account of those tragic events in the North End of Boston and is a must read for those interested in Italian family history in the greater Boston area. 

 We are very fortunate that the author, Stephen Puleo, will be our guest speaker at the October 1 meeting in Foxboro so add this book to your summer reading list!  Stephen’s newest book is Due to Enemy Action: The True WWII Story of the USS Eagle 56. Copies of both books will be available for sale at the meeting. Submitted by Marge DiSciullo #160   

A Kiss from Maddalena by Christopher Castellani [Berkley Books, NY, 2003]  ISBN# 0425196429
I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It is an insightful look at the small town of Santa Cecelia during the Second World War.

The review in the Boston Globe says it well. "A well-conceived and evidently well-researched account of a village during and after World War II, with attention to the complicated toll on the Italian psyche when the country went from one side of the conflict to the other...Castellani moves his novel swiftly and smoothly, with credible characters and convincing dialog."

Castellani clearly understands the intricate dynamics between the Piccinelli sisters, their parents, and the social atmosphere in Italy during the World War II era.

His characters are so complete and truthful that you feel you know them. His story is so compelling that I hope he is actively writing a sequel to a Kiss from Maddalena so that the reader may follow her life from where this book leaves off. Submitted by Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk, #93

Italian Fever, by Valerie Martin (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1999) ISBN#0375705228

Sometimes it’s fun to read a light novel that takes place in Italy, and Italian Fever has all the elements that make it enjoyable. There’s romance, beautiful Tuscan landscapes, Italian sprinkled throughout, a noble family involved, mysteries surrounding the death of an American, beautiful descriptions of artwork, and even the possibilities of ghosts. What makes this novel a cut above the usual Harlequin romances are the complexity of the characters, and how the female protagonist learns about judging (or misjudging) people, and comes to understand herself.  Submitted by Kathy Morano #161

Marone Memoirs: An Immigrant Story by Sarah E. Lingley (Xlibris Corp.) ISBN #1-4134-2834-7
This is a delightful book, written lovingly by the great-granddaughter of Raffaele and Rosa Pavese Marone from Laurenzana, Potenza Province, Basilicata Region of Italy. Sarah has told the story of her great-grandparents' marriage, family, immigration, and life both in Italy and in the United States in an easily read format. Her characters come alive and the reader can see their own immigrant ancestors in her story and perhaps understand the pain, hardship and joys of such a courageous journey.

This book is a fine example of what we as family researchers can achieve when they write their own family's story. By chronicling their saga we honor them and  give them the voice to be heard. Great job, Sarah!! Submitted by Marcia Iannizzi Melnyk, #93

The Stone Boudoir: Travels through the Hidden Villages of Sicily by Theresa Maggio. Perseus Publishing Co., Cambridge, MA 2002. ISBN #0-7382-0342-4
This is a lovely book telling of the travels through the many hidden villages of Sicily. The author, also the author of Mattanza, gives the reader an inside look into the villages and lifestyles of our ancestors.
Calabrian Tales: A Memoir of 19th Century Southern Italy by Peter Chiarella. Regent Press, Oakland, CA, 2002. ISBN #1-58790-030-0.
This is an amazing book. The author paints a very realistic picture of daily life in Calabria - a life similar to most of the immigrants from this region - a hard life filled with injustice, tragedy and hardship. I found the story powerful and absorbing. The trials and travails of the authors’ ancestors will keep you reading for hours. I was sorry to have the book conclude. Mr. Chiarella tells the tales and stories as they were related to him in his childhood. The reader will come to understand many of the reasons so many Southern Italians left their beloved homeland for other lands and nations. The pride, courage and tenacity shown by the characters in this story mirror those qualities so many of us remember in our grandparents’ generation. A must read for anyone with Italian roots!
Umbria, Italy's Timeless Heart by Paul Hoffmann. Henry Holt & Co., Inc., New York, NY ISBN#0-8050-4478-X
Umbria covers many facets of the Italian region in central Italy. The author explains the Etruscan heritage as well as the invaders and feuds of the area. Hofmann goes on to provide information on many of the Umbrian villages and their history. He talks about festivals, ancient walls and tombs, and so much more. A very interesting look at this often overlooked region of Italy

The author weaves history and interesting facts into wonderful vignettes of the Italian villages and countryside.

Hofmann is also the author of the following books about Italy:

  • The Sunny Side of the Alps: Year-round Delights in South Tyrol and the Dolomites
  • Roma: A Smart Travelers Guide to the Eternal City
  • That Fine Italian Hand
  • Cento Citta: A Guide to the "Hundred Cities and Towns" of Italy
  • O! Vatican: A Slightly Wicked View of the Holy See
  • Rome: The Sweet Tempestuous Life
  • The Seasons of Rome: A Journal
Cento Citta - A Guide to the Hundred Cities & Towns of Italy by Paul Hofmann. 1988 Henry Holt & Co., New York, NY. ISBN#0-8050-1465-9
This lovely book covers cento (100) cities and towns all over Italy. The chapters are divided into the following areas: The Serence Venetias; The Dynamic Northwest (Lombardy, Piedmont & Liguria); The Heartlands (Emelia Romagna & Tuscany); The Hinterlands of Rome (Umbria, Latium, Marches & Abruzzo); The Mezzogiorno (Southern Italy); The Islands (Sicily & Sardinia).

While many of the towns and cities are regular tourist destinations many ofthe nearby towns are worth a look when traveling in the area. The cities represented in this book cover the gamut from large tourist areas to small, quaint, hill towns that should not be overlooked.

This would be as great book to read before planning your next trip to "the boot."

My Father Came from Italy, by Maria Coletta McLean. 2000, Raincoast Books, Vancouver, Canada. ISBN#1-55192-356-4
This book is the story of a daughter's desire to "return to her roots" in Italy and to bring her father back to his native village. Maria and her husband, Bob, purchase a house in the village - sight unseen - and embark on an adventure when they try to have renovations done in their absence.

This book gives an inside look at the workings, or non-workings, of an age-old native village and its inhabitants. It is a unique look at the social and business workings, as well as the universal acceptance and love that is offered to anyone with "roots" in the village. More than 60 years after leaving his native village of Supino, Mezzabotte Coletta returns and everything is as if he never left. He is greeted warmly and openly by everyone and he quickly falls into the age old rituals of his village.

This book was a delight to read and made me thankful that I have had the opportunity to visit my ancestral villages, but sad that I could not have done so with my parents or my grandparents to truly understand the village culture.

Brunelleschi's Dome: How Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King. 2000, Penguin Books. ISBN#0-14-200015-9
While I picked this book up for my husband, he is yet to get his hands on it! I began to read it since I had visited the dome (we actually climbed to the top) in December of 1999 and wanted to see how much additional information might be presented. I had purchased all of the tourist brochures concerning the Duomo and Brunelleschi's magnificent dome while in Florence but none of those materials can compare to this national bestseller!

The detail and historical background to the creating and erecting of the dome has been thoroughly researched and is presented in an easy to read format that will keep you shaking your head. How such an incredible structure could have been created in the early 1400s has always amazed me. Learning the logistics of design and construction will leave you in awe of the Italian artists of the era.

The story is not only of the dome construction but of the interaction and personalities (or should we say egos?) of both Filippo Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti that affected the project and their rivalry that continued throughout the two artist's lives. The actual construction of the dome for the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore) is set against a background of history, engineering, warfare, plagues, and so much more that it is a mesmerizing tale that will enlighten any reader to a part of Italy's past.

Blood Washes Blood: A True Story of Love, Murder, and Redemption Under the Sicilian Sun, by Frank Viviano. 2001.
Blood Washes Blood is the account of the author's search for the facts surrounding the murder of his great-great grandfather. This search takes him through the archival and church records of western Sicily and succeeds in fleshing out his family history. In addition, this search also reveals the soul and mindset of Sicilians in general, who have learned to adapt and survive over twenty centuries of foreign rule. Wave after wave of foreign invaders were interested only in plundering the island's resources without ever providing the basic programs for the welfare of its inhabitants. The Sicilians' attempts to survive these invasions have left them skeptical of all governments. Not only Sicilian-Americans, but all Southern Italian-Americans will identify with the poverty and the hopelessness of living under these foreign invaders. As descendents of these immigrants, we can better understand what motivated our ancestors to leave everything behind and emigrate to a new land.

The many problems encountered during the author's attempt to solve his family history makes for a great story line. However, this story also has a special appeal to genealogists. They will find the author's travails with the local and provincial archives, church records, and local historians both informative and daunting. The thrill of finding that the archival records exist is tempered by the ordeal of obtaining access to these records. Once access has been gained, all genealogical researchers will recognize the author's frustrations as he attempts to decipher the information presented. While the author ultimately succeeds in understanding his family history, it took years of research in Sicily to fulfill his goal.

I highly recommend this book to all IGSA members.                          Review by Jim Forti, IGSA #58

Italian American Heritage, Syracuse, NY, by the Italian American Heritage Book Committee. 1994, New Hartford, NY
This book is an excellent example of what can be done when a group decides to document its roots. The book has some wonderful stories about the city of Syracuse in the early days, the Italians who helped found its vibrant culture and community life.

This book contains brief family histories of the Italians who settled in Syracuse, NY. Each study contains a picture of the individuals, their place of birth in Italy (when known), the year of immigration, parents and children's names, as well as some stories about the family. The book contains 174 of these family groups and more than 160 surnames are represented.

Were You Always Italian?, by Maria Laurino. 2000, W. W. Norton & Co. ISBN#0-393-04930-2
I have not yet had a chance to finish reading this highly acclaimed book. What I have read thus far is thought provoking and well written. Laurino breaks the book down by evaluating some of her memories of growing up as an Italian girl in a suburb where her ethnic group was not well represented. She explores not only other people's perception of Italian-Americans, but of her own perceptions as well.

One of the reviews of this book, from the San Francisco Chronicle states "One of the best books about the immigrant experience in America...unique and gracefully written."

Dances with Luigi: A Grandson's Search for his Italian Roots by Paul Paolicelli. 2000, Thomas Dunn Books. ISBN#0-312-28380-6
This is a positively wonderful book! Once I started to read it I could not put it down. The author, an international journalist, took several years off to live in Italy and trace his family. His adventure began with a need to have a copy of his grandfather's birth certificate to gain his dual citizenship. What started out as a simple task became a three-year adventure in Italian culture, food, bureaucracy, and family values. The adventure ended with an appreciation for his grandfather's native country and its people.

The author begins his search by taking Italian lessons and then locating someone to travel with him and assist him with the language and its many dialects. He makes contact with Laura, to practice his new language. Enter Luigi - Laura's protective father - a lonely Italian man whose American wife did not like Italy and deserted him to return to the states many years before. Luigi cannot give his permission for his daughter to travel with this single American - what would people think? Luigi becomes the author's interpreter, traveling guide, and friend. Along the way he teaches Paul many things and takes him to the local "dances" where the author observes the many layered culture of his ancestors' homeland.

A truly inspirational story that I was sad to see end. A must read for anyone trying to understand the native Italy of our grandparents!

Women of the Shadows: Wives and Mothers of Southern Italy by Ann Cornelisen. 1976 Steerforth Italia, S. Royalton, VT. ISBN#1-58642-016-X
This wonderful little book tells the stories of Peppina, Ninetta, Teresa, Pinuccia and Cettina, wives and mothers in Southern Italy, through the eyes of the author.

Cornelisen first visited Southern Italy in 1954, after WW II, as a volunteer with the British Save the Children Fund. She remained there for nearly twenty years.

Her stories of the women of the area are told with a woman's compassion and understanding of their plight. The book provides the reader with a wonderful insight into the lives - harsh, sad, and humerous - of the women she chronicles.

Under the Southern Sun: Stories of the Real Italy and the Americans It Created by Paul Paolicelli (author of Dances with Luigi). (Thomas Dunn books, NY. 2003) ISBN#0-312-28765-8
If you enjoyed Dances with Luigi you will probably like Paolicelli’s second book. It contains a lot of historical information along with his impressions of the various areas of southern Italy.

Some of the chapters include:

Il Mezzogiorno; The City of the Sassi; Amantea, Calabria; North Versus South; The Concentration Camp at Ferrimonti; Ceremonies and Festivals and more. He has also included a list of sources and reading material. By actually reading an author’s bibliography and book lists you will be provide with many additional books to read.

Mattanza: love & death in the sea of Sicily by Theresa Maggio [Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, MA. 2000, ISBN#0-7382-0269-X]
Mattanza is a fascinating book about the tuna fishing tradition in Sicily. It is very well written and an insightful look into the traditions and lifeblood of an entire culture.

The book sleeve states: "In this riveting narrative debut, Theresa Maggio brings us inside the secretive world of the tonnara - the ritual trapping and killing of bluefin enacted by fishermen since the Stone Age. Every spring, these majestic bluefin have passed through the Strait of Gibralter to spawn in the Mediterranean. And there, every year for generations, men have waited for them."

Italian Farm Vacations: The Guide to Countryside Hospitality by Touring Club of Italy (Touring Club of Italy, 2003). ISBN#88-365-2838-4           

This book is a good companion to Henrickson's book mentioned above. Crume opens with a chapter on strategies for working on the Web and then outlines the genealogy "megasites" such as Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Genealogy.com, NewEnglandAncestors.com, and USGenWeb.org. 

The author then presents information on specific record types such as: vital records, wills, probate, cemeteries, military, land and property, newspapers, church records, books, journals and manuscripts. In each of the specific chapters he has lists of records that are available online and what site has them. This can be a wonderful resource, especially for those harder to find records all over the US. 

The resources presented will lead you to additional resources as well.

 Killer Smile by Lisa Scottoline (Harper Collins Pub., 2004) ISBN #0-06-051495-7

This book began with the discovery, by the author, of papers pertaining to the classification of her grandparents as "enemy aliens" during World War II.  

Scottoline then created a wonderful story around a fictitious character, Amadeo Brandolini, who was interred and died in a prisoner of war camp under questionable circumstances.

Her main character, Mary DiNunzio, is an attorney who has been hired by the estate of the deceased to determine the facts surrounding his death and possibly receive remuneration for the business that was taken from him. What evolves is a richly told story with many layers. DiNunzio becomes obsessed with finding the truth, even placing her life at risk in the process.  

I found this to be a wonderfully written book and I enjoyed it thoroughly!

Other books of interest:

One Family, Two Worlds; An Italian Family’s Correspondence across the Atlantic, 1901-1922 by Samuel L. Bailey and Franco Ramella, editors; John Lenaghan, translator. [Rutgers Univ. Press, NJ. 1988] ISBN#0-8135-1354-5

Militants and Migrants: Rural Sicilians become American Workers by Donna Rae Gabaccia [Rutgers Univ. Press. 1988] ISBN#0-8135-1356-1

Chapters include: Of Militants and Migrants; A Mobile and Unruly Countryside; The Genesis of a Red Town; From Fasci to Emigration; Links in the Migration Chain; Immigrant Workers in Louisiana and Chicago; Immigrant Workers in Tampa and Brooklyn; Rural Conflict in Sicily after 1900.

 
Heritage Italian-American Style, 2nd edition, bilingual by Leon J. Radomile [Vicero Enterprises, Novato, CA. 1999, revised 2000] <www.italianheritage.net>
 
In the garden of Papa Santuzzu by Tony Ardizzone. [Picador USA. 2000] ISBN#0312263414
 
The Last Cannoli by Camille Cusumano [Legas, 1999] ISBN#1881901203

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