It's the autumn of 1999, and Prima Grasso Buckley and her husband Tom surprise their four sons, her parents, Antonio and Maddelena, and her brother Frankie with tickets to visit Santa Cecilia, the Italian village from which her parents emigrated (50 years before), in August of the following year. Maddelena and Frankie immediately announce that they don't want to go.
Prima, Antonio, Frankie, and Maddelena are the narrators of this story, and the reader learns about their lives and secrets. Prima is rather obsessive about her family and overprotective of (and lenient with) her children. Antonio still manages the Italian restaurant in Wilmington he founded, but is worried about its future after he's gone. Frankie is much younger than his sister and is working on an endless dissertation in Boston and having an affair with his married advisor. All of them, but especially Maddalena, mourn Tony, the son who committed suicide at age fourteen, thirty years before, whose death had such a profound impact on them all. The following spring, a couple of health crises further affect the family.
I found Frankie's story the most interesting, as the changes in his family's lives seemed to spark changes in his own, and got him out of the rut he was in with his dissertation and the affair. He seems to be the most "Americanized" of the four main characters, with little awareness or concern for his roots. The other three reflect the other common attitudes of immigrants and their first-generation offspring. Antonio embraces his new life in America and is well integrated into it, but longs to revisit his homeland. Maddalena uses her new life as an opportunity to forget the unpleasantness of the past and always look ahead (so what happens to her is especially heartbreaking). I most identified with Prima, the daughter who is most definitely American born and bred, but is also interested in her Italian roots.
Author Christopher Castellani based part of the book on his own experiences with his Italian immigrant parents. He grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, and now lives in Boston, and visited his parents' Italian village with them in 1995, so he is familiar with the settings in his book, and it shows.
After reading this book, I learned it was the third in a trilogy centered around Maddelena. Although this book stands alone well, and I enjoyed it, I think it would have helped to have read the first two books before this one. It might have helped me understand Maddelena better, particularly her reasons for not wanting to return to Santa Cecilia.
© Amanda Pape - 2013
[I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. It will be donated to my local public or university library, or passed on to someone else to enjoy.]