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Vitaby Melania G Mazzucco
2003 Strega Prize
Synopses & Reviews
In April 1903, the steamship Republic spills more than two thousand immigrants onto Ellis Island. Among them are Diamante, age twelve, and Vita, nine, sent by their poor families in southern Italy to make their way in America. Amid the chaos and splendor of New York, the misery and criminality of Little Italy, and the shady tenants of Vita's father's decrepit Prince Street boarding house, Diamante and Vita struggle to survive, to create a new life, and to become American. From journeys west in search of work to journeys back to Italy in search of their roots, to Vita's son's encounter with his mother's home town while serving as an army captain in World War II, Vita touches on every aspect of the heartbreaking and inspiring immigrant story.
The award-winning Italian author Melania G. Mazzucco weaves her own family history into a great American novel of the immigrant experience. A sweeping tale of discovery, love, and loss, Vita is a passionate blend of biography and autobiography, of fantasy and fiction.
"Inspired storytelling drives this fictionalized narrative, which follows the Italian author's family to 1903 Ellis Island, where 12-year-old Diamante Mazzucco and his cousin Vita, age nine, evolve into star-crossed lovers striving to fulfill their destinies. Earning their keep in the squalid boardinghouse run by Vita's father, the two (along with other relatives) are more or less confined to Prince Street in Manhattan, where they are subject to a horrifying array of abuses and privations. Deeply in love with Vita by the time he is 16 and determined to earn enough to marry her, Diamante signs on with a railroad building crew and unwittingly begins four years of involuntary servitude under conditions that Mazzucco describes in unsparing detail; this underrepresented corner of the East Coast immigrant experience feels as fresh here as it is brutal. Vita, meanwhile, survives three years in reform school and betrayal by a man who seduces her. The narrative throughout is lively, deeply affecting and complex, involving dozens of striving minor characters, some of whom turn to crime. Four-time novelist Mazzucco also interjects nonfiction chapters that relate her search for family members in Italy and the U.S., adding a resonant sleuthing element that further distinguishes this literary take on early — 20th-century Italian-America and enduring love. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"One might have thought that the story of V. Sackville-West as unfolded in Portrait of a Marriage, which her son, Nigel Nicolson, based on her 1920 autobiography and expanded to cover the whole story of her life and marriage, would have been sufficient.
Victoria Glendinning proves this wrong in her long, detailed, and interpretive biography of this remarkable woman— more remarkable as woman than as writer. 'The first great sorrow of her life,' writes Glendinning, 'was that, by an accident of gender, Knole could never be hers; the second, the realization that she was not a 'great' writer.... I would like her story to be read as an adventure story.' And so the story is told: an adventure in heredity, in personal relations, both conventional and unconventional, and also an adventure in the creation of gardens, first at Long Barn and afterward at Sissinghurst, this latter a creation which still survives, more vitally perhaps than any of her novels and poems." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"A beautiful and moving saga, a lyrical epic, profoundly existential, full of illusion, hope, and heartache" Giovanni Pacchiano, Il Sole 24 Ore
"Winner in 2003 of Italy's Strega Prize, this teeming, nostalgic tale should find willing American readers." Kirkus Review
"While the text is dense, rich details provide a harrowing glimpse into the era's political and social milieu. Winner of Italy's prestigious Strega Prize, this fascinating and moving novel is highly recommended." Library Journal
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
In April 1903, Diamante, age twelve, and Vita, age nine, are sent by their poor families in southern Italy to make a life for themselves in America. Theirs is an unforgettable love story, a riveting tale of immigrant survival and hope that takes them from the crime-ridden tenements of Little Italy to the brutal rail yards of the Midwest, on paths that cross with the Black Hand, Caruso, and Chaplin. It is a story that reaches across decades, to the son of Vita, who would travel as far as Italy to find his roots and the man who could have been his father.
In Vita, the author, Melania G. Mazzucco, also tells her own story of how she found Diamante and Vita in old photographs, documents, ship manifests, and the fading memories of her relatives, and from these fragments of the past imagined this gripping epic fiction of her family's history.
In "Vita," an award-winning Italian author weaves her own family history into a great American novel of the immigrant experience. A sweeping tale of discovery, love, and loss, "Vita" is a passionate blend of biography and autobiography, of fantasy and fiction.
About the Author
Melania G. Mazzucco's four novels have been translated into twenty languages. She lives in Rome, Italy.
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