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The Islands of Divine Music

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ISBN13: 9781932961546
ISBN10: 1932961542
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The Islands of Divine Music is a novel of five generations of an Italian-American family finding its place in the New World. Against a backdrop of Immigration, Prohibition, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the new millennium, five generations of the Verbicaro family make their way from Southern Italy to San Francisco as each character brushes up against some aspect of the divine.

The family matriarch is Rosari, a little girl whose family flees Italy because her prodigality is exploited by illiterate kidnappers. After her beautiful, psychotic mother’s suicide, the girl and her despondent father come to San Francisco, where she meets the man she’ll marry, a handsome, fiercely strong peasant named Giuseppe Verbicaro. The twelve linked stories of The Islands of Divine Music are portraits of family members whose lives are interwoven in one narrative that spans 100 years.

Rosari and Giuseppe's oldest son, Narciso, a handsome and dim-witted dandy, barely evades death and the stain of organized crime by his simple-minded innocence and luck, while his passionate brother Ludovico, a talented third baseman in the old San Francisco minor leagues, falls prey to the illicit dreams of a wise guy from the Gambino family. His scheme to smuggle Cuban cigars to the San Francisco Bay nearly ends in drowning but leads to a kind of salvation.

Their youngest brother, Joe, a brilliant child and shrewd businessman, is ashamed of his ethnicity and, in particular, his father. This is due in part to the fact that Giuseppe, wandering North Beach, believes that God directs him to marry a teen-aged, pregnant Mexican prostitute named Maria. Further senility, faith, or vermouth convinces the old man that Maria's child, Jesus, is the product of an immaculate conception. The event is both a family disgrace and a bizarre blessing. The child's life and tragic death come to have a profound effect on Giuseppe's progeny, particularly Joe's children: Penelope, who flees the country following involvement in deadly anti-Vietnam War activities, and her brothers Paulie and Angelo, who are inspired by the young Jesus to embark upon a quest of several thousand miles to recover the family's lost and most prized spiritual treasures.

Review:

"With The Islands of Divine Music, John Addiego achieves a deft and graceful balancing act — a tender but unflinching fictional interface of pragmatism and passionate faith. As Addiego investigates the twentieth century American experience by way of southern Italian lore and Mexican mysticism, he delivers a novel that somehow manages to be both succinct and expansive, both grounded and otherworldly. I was moved and entertained by this truly original story." Wally Lamb

About the Author

John Addiego has published numerous stories and poems in literary journals and is a former poetry editor at the Northwest Review. Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he now lives with his wife, Ellen, and daughter, Emily, in Corvallis, Oregon, where he teaches students with special needs. The Islands of Divine Music is his first novel.

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Wendy Robards, March 2, 2009 (view all comments by Wendy Robards)
John Addiego’s debut novel - The Islands of Divine Music - is a multi-generational novel in short stories about the Verbicaro family. The book spans more than 100 years and is told from the multiple viewpoints of five generations of Italian-Americans, beginning with the voice of matriarch Rosari as she leaves Southern Italy bound for the United States. Although each individual must move through their life with their own problems, challenges, and unique perspectives…they are all bound together by family and the divine. A member of my book group referred to them as “islands within the chain of an archipelago” which seems to describe the structure of this novel well.

The Islands of Divine Music is not an easy book to read and understand. Addiego uses magical realism to bring forth his themes of isolation, faith and love of family. All the characters are seriously flawed - some becoming embroiled in the mafia, others turning towards prostitution, and some slipping into the stranglehold of drug addiction. They fight demons such as social alienation, violence, and infidelity. All of this occurs against the backdrop of 20th century American history: Immigration, Prohibition, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and Civil Rights. It is a large platter of rich subject matter - and at times it seems almost too weighty for a novel of just under 250 pages.

Addiego is a skillful writer and there were some passages that were so beautifully written I began marking them:

Eleonora stood on deck with her head uncovered, her face radiant, and the sky fell as white jewels onto her black hair. She lifted Rosari’s hand, and they dance slowly through the snow, a substance Rosari had never seen before, a phenomenon which seemed to her then the flight of a million angels come to guide her mother and herself to a new life. - from The Islands of Divine Music, page 14 -

Through the glass their eyes met, and Penny’s heart jumped, and as the pneumatic door snapped shut and the car lurched forward she mouthed his name, and he nodded. Both of them opened their mouths and pointed as the train swiftly drew them apart, the one who had stood on the Golden Gate Bridge an hour earlier and decided against death by the direction of a bird’s flight and the other who’d returned in thought to that hidden mesa at the end of the world where a mother and child huddled under a blue poncho and waited for the shadow of death to pass over. - from The Islands of Divine Music, page 129 -

Despite these exquisite passages, the novel also was quite graphic in its descriptions of violence - especially one scene which describes the sexual assault of one of the female characters. There were moments in the book where I felt Addiego could have been less graphic and still made his points.

One of the flaws of the novel was the vast numbers of characters which flow in and out of the narrative. Luckily for the reader, Addiego provides a genealogical chart at the beginning which I found myself referring to many times just to keep everyone straight. This novel often felt like a collection of short stories (and indeed, many of the chapters were previously published as short stories). I found myself frustrated at times that just as I was starting to get to know one character, I was introduced to another. The second half of the book felt better connected to me than the first part.

I have a negative bias toward novels entrenched in magical realism, so it is to Addiego’s credit that I found myself slipping into the world of the Verbicaro family and wanting to know more about them. The language of this novel is raw and occasionally graphic; often the characters are gritty and unlikable. Although I think Addiego is a talented writer, the book was not really my cup of tea. But for readers who love magical realism and who like a novel which is unique, The Islands of Divine Music might be just what you are looking for…

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Product Details

ISBN:
9781932961546
Author:
Addiego, John
Publisher:
Unbridled Books
Subject:
Family
Subject:
Italian americans
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Literary
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20081031
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 in

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Family Life

The Islands of Divine Music New Hardcover
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Product details 256 pages Unbridled Books - English 9781932961546 Reviews:
"Review" by , "With The Islands of Divine Music, John Addiego achieves a deft and graceful balancing act — a tender but unflinching fictional interface of pragmatism and passionate faith. As Addiego investigates the twentieth century American experience by way of southern Italian lore and Mexican mysticism, he delivers a novel that somehow manages to be both succinct and expansive, both grounded and otherworldly. I was moved and entertained by this truly original story."
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