cover image Beyond the Godfather: Italian American Writers on the Real Italian American Experience

Beyond the Godfather: Italian American Writers on the Real Italian American Experience

. University Press of New England, $45 (338pp) ISBN 978-0-87451-845-0

In March 1993, Gay Talese wrote an essay in the New York Times Book Review that asked ""Where are all the Italian American novelists?"" This collection of 23 essays on Italian American culture, literary influences and identity and social politics is in part a response. The most vibrant essays here move the discussion beyond the Mafiosi stereotypes and offer new appreciation of the often discounted influence that Italian Americans have had on American literature and life. The first section (of three) is devoted to personal reflection. In this context, critic Louise DeSalvo describes the burden of being the one child ""selected by family elders to carry all the hopes for success for the family."" In the second section on the Italian American literary tradition, professor Fred L. Gardaphe examines the keeping--and breaking--of the important code of omerta, or secrecy. In the third section on particular aspects of Italian American heritage, Ciongoli, a neurologist and president of the National Italian American Foundation, argues for a return to the ideals of the Roman republic, ideals that inspired the founders of our own. Maternal influences run strongly for writers throughout this collection: Talese learns how to listen to stories, especially the parts left out, from his dressmaker mother who was sought out and respected by society women. Many children of immigrant families feel a sense of isolation, of not fitting in. The writers here have taken their differences, those magnets for discrimination, and used them instead as lodestones to success. (Oct.)