In this historical novel, which author Joe Giordano dedicates to his parents, a young Italian named Leonardo Robustelli moves from his homeland to America, experiencing the challenges of adjusting to a new country. The story begins in 1905 with the protagonist seeking work but not finding any in his native Naples, although he does have the opportunity to work as a shoemaker for Signor Felicio, as his mother Anna wishes. Disinterested in cobbling, however, Leonardo decides to move to New York, with Signor Gentile having a place for him to stay in the city. The day her son is to leave for America, Anna can’t get out of bed, which foreshadows later events in the novel, with occasional backstory such as Anna learning to read from Dante’s Divine Comedy.
The book explores class differences aboard the ship Leonardo takes to New York, where he is quarantined for a few days due to a pinkeye infection. Giordano also presents a foil to Leonardo named Carlo Mazzi, who is Don Salvatore’s son, back from the University of Bologna, where he majored in Roman History, fencing, and, as the story humorously puts it, women. Carlo developed a love interest in college named Caprice Sacco, although another man doted upon her, Aldo, the nephew to an Italian Prime Minister’s cabinet minister. The peninsula nation’s monarch at the time, King Victor Emmanuel III, is evidently tax-happy, one of the reasons that drives Carlo to leave his homeland.
Thus, Carlo, alongside his friend Vincenzo, travels to New York, where Leonardo finally meets with Signor Gentile, only to experience disappointment and low-paying labor. The Italian mafia group known as the Camorra plays part in the narrative, alongside the political corruption at the time of Tammany Hall and its various officials including Big Jim O’Neill, himself the scion of immigrants to New York. Ultimately, this is an enjoyable historical novel that largely demonstrates the author put some thought and research into his work, although some of the book’s primary themes have been done before in both literature and cinema. Even so, this reviewer would easily recommend this novel to fans of historical fiction in general.
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. His father and grandparents immigrated to New York from Naples. Joe and his wife, Jane have lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and the Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their shih tzu Sophia. Joe's stories have appeared in more than sixty magazines including Bartleby Snopes, The Newfound Journal, and The Summerset Review.