ELIZABETH STREET by Laurie Fabiano is the novel I chose to read on my birthday week. I put aside all other reading and treated myself to this amazing novel.
I’d been looking at this book for a couple of years. Had trouble ordering it into the store from time to time. When several copies arrived in the store, suddenly, I scrambled to buy, one knowing I would hand-sell the few I have lickety-split.
ELIZABETH STREET is a novel based on the life of the author’s great grandmother. It takes place during the very early 1900’s in Scilla, Italy and NYC.
The novel begins in 1890 in Scilla, Calabria, Italy. Giovanna Costa is marrying her soul mate, her childhood sweetheart, her cousin, Nunzio Pontilla. They live in a tiny fishing village; it is shown beautifully on the top part of the cover of this book.
This vibrant and poignant story is told in two voices: Giovanna’s and her great grandchild’s. The chapters alternate between Scilla and NYC.
Knowing that this story has so much truth to it made it so compelling to me. To think that Italian immigrants had to deal with such unbelievable treachery, to be cheated and stolen from, and sometimes to even lose their lives through incompetency, is appalling. Fabiano tells the story of her family with humility, love, honesty, and tenacity. I simply loved reading this story.
I had to get my map out to locate Scilla. It is in the boot of the tip of Italy. First, I really thought it was part of Sicily. But it is actually in Calabria. And Scilla is located on the sea. In fact, the front doors of the homes opened to the sea where they would keep their boats. The backside of the houses opened to a maze of back streets and alleys where the families lived in close proximity.
When money became scarce, the young men, having no way to feed their families, traveled to America to make their fortunes. Most imagined themselves arriving back in Scilla in the future with their pockets full of money. But, instead of returning, most of them sent letters encouraging other young people to come to America. And that is what happened to Nunzio. His brother sent word of great opportunities in NYC. Off Nunzio went with the promise to return to take care of his family But when a tragic accident prevents his return, all their lives change forever.
The NYC of the early 1900’s is perfectly portrayed as a filthy, squalid nightmare of a place for immigrants. They were herded like cattle and treated like animals. They lived in small tenements, many families to one room, sometimes. And sent money home to the families left behind.
And what about the families left in Scilla? How were they faring?
Italy has always been known for its earthquakes. But what of the one that hit Calabria and Sicily in 1908? It quickly becomes a tense page-turning event in this book. The description of the tsunami that occurred almost synonymously will take your breath away and leave you limp as a dishrag. Plus, it will have you racing to your Google app to check it all out.
Giovanna is one of my favorite female characters ever. She is one of the strongest women I’ve come across. And has challenge after catastrophic challenge thrown at her. You will surely find yourself cheering for her and wondering what on earth will come her way next.
So much of this book is full of real events. A kidnapping of the author’s grandmother as a small child is one you will never forget. All true.
Okay, enough said. Go buy this book. I probably do not have any copies left at my store, but you can order it online at bn.com. And share it with someone you can talk about it with later on.
I haven’t heard of any other books by Fabiano. I sure hope she will consider writing again. She is a great writer and I look forward to reading her again.