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Spring 2015


The Harbor of the World
- O. Arieti
Those Italian Boys
- I. Backalenick
Friendless Featherheads
- G. Beck
- K. Cain
- J. Campbell
King Street Comanche
- B. Foster
- L. Giulianetti
Poets Out of Service
- M. Johnson
Irish Farmer
- L. Kumar
Communion Portrait
- J. Lagier
- M. Lisella
Connemara 2004
- C. Lloyd
Carrying Grandpa
- M. Lyon
The Saying of Mass
- C. Moore
Taking You home
- J. Mulligan
- P. Murray
- P. Nicholas
Resurrecting Easter Sunday
- L. Pierro
Dublin Spirts
- F. Polizzi
Nun Ponnu/They Cannot
- N. Provenzano
- K. Retzlaff
- C. Steinhoff
Strawberry Pickers, Cyprus
- J. Tarwood
Melina's Tarverna
- B. Thomas
No News
- R. Tremmel
- R. Volz
Broadway Bagel
- C. Wald
Taking My 8-Year-Old Daughter to Hear Seamus Heaney
- L. Wiley
My Mother Had a Relationship with Good Bread
- C. Young
Sicilian Traces
- A. Znaidi

Spring 2015


- J. Amato
Moving Day, 1897
- D. Corrigan
My Madeleine
- F. Dunne
A Review Of Italoamericana: The Literature Of The Great Migration, 1880–1943
- G. Fagiani
The Immigrant's Grandson
- J. Giordano
Review of The Glass Ships
- R. Crupi Holz
A Sunday Afternoon
- R. Iulo
Dark Idyll
- T. Sanfilip
The Choir Book
- G. Sullivan
Review of My Two Italies
- T. Zeppetella

Featured Artist
Richard Holz



Tony Zeppetella

A review of Joseph Luzzi’s My Two Italies (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)

Joseph Luzzi begins his book, My Two Italies, with the childhood memory of how the pet rabbit that his godmother brought him became the main course of the family’s Easter dinner. Murdered by his parents! For this southern Italian family, “I animale per mangiare.” Animals are for eating. So we see right away the generation gap between the American-born author and his immigrant parents.

His parents, Pasquale and Yolanda, Luzzi emigrated from the town of Acri in the province of Cosenza in the region of Calabria in the mid-1950s. In this ancient part of Italy, part of Magna Graecia, life differed little from those ancient days. Il Mezzogiorno, the South of Italy, had suffered ever since the unification in 1861, triggering the mass migration to the Americas. And at this time Italy was still recovering from World War II. This was definitely pre-La Dolce Vita.

Pasquale and Yolanda transplanted their Calabrian existence to suburban Westerly, Rhode Island. They raised, prepared and preserved most of their food: fruit, vegetables and animals. They mainly spoke their dialect and learned little English. Thanks to Pasquale’s lifetime of factory work, they brought their children into the middle class. They paid for the author’s Yale education, where he earned a doctorate degree in Italian. Joseph Luzzi teaches Italian at Bard College and has authored several books and many essays and articles on Italian culture.

It’s hard to describe this book. It is part memoir, part Italian history, and part analysis of modern Italian society. Luzzi presents his points with the help of references to great Italian literature, philosophy, commentators and politicians. Dante infuses the book throughout, but also the great Italian poet, Giacomo Leopardi, Italy’s greatest novelists, Alessandro Manzoni, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and many others. So you feel you are reading a scholarly review. There is in fact a chapter of notes at the end containing references to the author’s citations.

But the heart of the book is the biographical memoir of Luzzi and his family. Those interested in reading about the immigrant experience should note that his is somewhat atypical. The Luzzis emigrated in more recent times and were able to keep much of their lifestyle in their new home.

In spite of the incident of the rabbit, Luzzi clearly grew up appreciating his Italian heritage and family. He just wasn’t aware of how different it was from the Italy of his imagination. He decided to study Italian in college as a way of connecting with his Calabrian roots. He soon realizes how different those roots are to the Italian language and culture that is studied in academia. In his freshman year, when he told a girl from Turin that his family was from Calabria, she said, “That’s Africa, not Italy.” Besides the implied racism toward Africa in that comment, there is a racist slur describing southern Italians as terrone, like ditch-digging peasants. This attitude survives to some degree from its roots after the Italian unification and subsequent government policies severely impacted the economy of the South.

The book’s title is taken from the famous quotation of Percy Shelley (1818):

“There are two Italies – one composed of the green earth and transparent sea, and the mighty ruins of ancient time, and aerial mountains, and the warm and radiant atmosphere which is interfused through all things. The other consists of the Italians of the present day, their works and ways. The one is the most sublime and lovely contemplation that can be conceived by the imagination of man; the other is the most degraded, disgusting, and odious.”

Shelley, I think, was not referring to the North and South of Italy. Luzzi’s two Italies, on the other hand, encompass the two different regions, but also other pairs of diverse Italies: the great art, literature and culture of Florence that he went on to study versus the Italy of his Calabrian family, the language of Dante versus the regional dialects, his Little Italy in Rhode Island versus the “Big Italy” in Europe. There is also the Italy of the living versus the Italy of the dead, which he describes during his first return to Florence after the tragic death of his wife.

In an interview, Luzzi stated that he started writing a book about the current crises in Italian society, but the book evolved to its final state as he began adding his family experiences. It appears that Chapter 5, titled “No Society,” is the basis of his original intention. Italy’s problems include an aging population, a crushing bureaucracy, rising unemployment, endless corruption and organized crime. About one-third of the population do not pay taxes, while boatloads of immigrants seek to reach its shores.

There is an amusing illustration of the bureaucracy in his attempt to mail some books home at an Italian post office. After bringing his carefully wrapped package with the required paper wrapping tied with string, per specifications, the clerk told him that he needed a codice fiscale, a fiscal code that is assigned to each citizen so they can trace financial transactions. Since he had no fiscal code, he couldn’t mail the package. No code, no package mailed. She insisted that she didn’t make the rules; she only followed them. Later, a friend told him to just go online and fill out a form to get the code even though he was not a citizen. “Is that legal?” he asked. “Let’s just say it’s a very Neapolitan solution,” he is told.

This reviewer can attest to the opposite situation, trying to send a package in to Italy. I sent a gift to relatives in Italy and they were called saying they couldn’t get the package without payment of a 50-euro fee. After a couple of months, the package made the return trip across the Atlantic to me.

The combination of the corruption and bureaucracy and nepotism makes Italians cynical and resigned to the hopelessness of the situation and stifles initiative. Talking to Italians, I sometimes picture an unfinished statue by Michelangelo who said that his work was freeing the sculptured figure from the marble. Today’s Italians are like that unfinished figure struggling to escape the marble. The best that they can do is to seek a “Neapolitan” solution.

Luzzi’s last trip to Italy was in 2012 and the first time that he had brought his 4-year-old daughter, Isabel, with him. She was saved from the womb of his dying wife and Luzzi managed with great help from his siblings and mother to raise her. She of course is more concerned with gelato than the sculpture and art and architecture. But Luzzi connects his story from the unusual courtship of his father and mother to their emigration to America to the birth of his daughter, who will never fully understand the Calabrian world of his parents.

Perhaps Isabel will understand that they did not come from Africa as that girl from the “noble” North described southern Italy. She may learn how her grandfather got up at 3:30 in the morning so he could work overtime at the factory and do gardening work afterward. A total of 15-16 hours of work a day, just as Mario Cuomo described his father when he spoke at the 1984 Democratic convention. This work ethic comes to a people who were given nothing in their native land and came here because they had the opportunity to work. And she may learn that her grandmother maintained the house and what was essentially a small farm and cooked meals and made the lunch boxes, so her husband could spend all that time working, while she raised her six children. Isabel may learn that those grandparents came from nothing, but given the opportunity, they brought a large family into the middle class and sent her father to college and graduate school. Pasquale and Yolanda Luzzi and millions of their compatriots did this. That’s nobility.