Sunday, September 20, 2009
Vita by Melania Mazzucco
“The image of that city rising from the water and aiming straight for the sky will stay with him for the rest of his life - so near and yet so unreachable.”
This novel written by Melania Mazzucco became an international publishing sensation with the rights were sold in 11 countries, 300,000 copies were sold in Italy, and it won the prestigious Strega Award in Italy.
Melania Mazzucco brings to life the Italian immigrant experience, the journeys of hopes, dreams, illusions and disillusionment that many made at the turn of the century to escape poverty.
Historical fact is melded with fiction as Mazzucco reveals the story of Vita (aged nine) and Diamante (aged 12), two cousins who immigrate to New York City in 1903. After clearing customs at Ellis Island, the two children try to locate Vita’s father who lives in a boardinghouse located in the Italian Quarter.
Mazzucco’s prose is powerful and she breathe life to the horrible conditions the poor Italian immigrant was subjected to. It is a struggle merely to survive as Vita and Diamante try to assimilate into.
From squalor to the brutal conditions of labor; from lack of essentials to starvation, from disease to death, from the threats of the notorious Black Hand letters to murder and chaos - the reader experiences all the darkness of the times through the eyes of these two children and the various characters in the story. Out of the darnkess of their lives, Vita and Diamante discover an enduring love.
Diamante becomes trapped working as a waterboy for a railroad - the more he earns, the more he owes. Disillusioned, he escapes to the west. Their separation affects the two youths in many ways, with both good and bad influences. Shattered dreams, discouragement, toil and struggle change the immigrants.
Mazzucco tells this history of her family with passion and pain. Each word is to be savoured and understood and by the end of the novel, the reader is left with a lasting impression of what thousands of Italian immigrants struggled with to rebuild their lives in a new world.
Brava Melania Mazzucco.