I get excited when I know a new novel by Ann Hood is approaching publication. I have been thinking about AN ITALIAN WIFE by Ann Hood since I finished it three days ago. I am still digesting the content. Figuring out the story. Asking myself if I loved it.
The story of Josephine Rimaldi begins in 1889. She’s fifteen years-old and about to be married to a man 11 years her senior. A man she’s never set eyes on, someone her parents have chosen for her. Josephine’s family were simple folk living high in the mountains of Italy. And her family married her off to Vincenzo so she would have a better life. The so-called better life did not begin for five years, the amount of time it took Vincenzo to send for her to join him in America.
Ann Hood has an uncanny ability to show you the soul of the characters she inhabits. Josephine Rimaldi ended up in Rhode Island in a loveless marriage with only the church for comfort. And some comfort that is. Edgy, and at times downright odd, the relationship Josephine has with Father Leone is bothersome and uncomfortable. And the children keep coming. One after the other, after the other. Seven all told, but the last child is a surprise in more ways than one.
Josephine’s family is filled with rife. Carmine, her son, returned from WW11 shell-shocked and not quite right. Francie, her granddaughter, was widowed at a young age and never fit back into the suburbs where she lives. Then there is Aida, Josephine’s greatgranddaughter, who runs away from home taking a bus across the country to end up in the Haight- Ashbury of San Francisco.
Hood wrote this novel of connected stories over a time frame of fifteen years. She has pulled from her memory of her own Italian-American family. Most of her oldest relatives never learned to speak or write English. And there were plenty of them. She is from a huge family.
I love a multigenerational novel. And I love Italy. I also love reading about immigrant experiences. And who better than Ann Hood to bring us this evocative story of love, complacency, the sexual revolution, and a secret kept for almost a hundred years!
I keep thinking about Valentina, the last daughter, who got away. And I have to wonder how many other babies have been so lost.
This novel will definitely make you think. I think of all the women and girls who lived through sexual revolutions. How a young woman deals with her sexual feelings can and usually does shape her life, for better or worse. I watched over a period of a hundred years how women and sex changed: their feelings, their awakenings to it, and, finally, their freedom to enjoy it.
AN ITALIAN WIFE is a quick ,enlightening novel. You will want to share it and talk about it. Go ahead, you’ll be glad you did.
I borrowed my copy from work, a wonderful lending perk for booksellers of BN.