As a girl, Christine Simolke was fascinated by her grandmother's young life in America after arriving from Italy. Her grandmother, Giovanna, and great aunt, Evelina, told her stories about their journey across the ocean with their Mama and sister Maria to be reunited with the Papa they barely knew. Inspired by her relatives' courage and determination to make this strange, sprawling country their home, Christine was also captivated by their tales of romance and secrets.
In graduate school, she wrote a research paper based on those stories and an interview she'd done with her grandmother. She vowed she would someday return to her grandmother's life story to write a novel about the immigrant experience.
Simolke fulfills that promise with Children of Italy (Hawkins; 2016; $13.95 paperback). Hailed as "a great read from a new voice in historical fiction" (Book-of-the-Month Club), it tells the gripping story of a hardworking, resourceful, resilient, and loving Italian immigrant family. The story of the Falconi family is the story of not only the author's family—Christine is the great-granddaughter of Luigi and Appollonia Falconi—but also the families of many Americans. Set in the 1920s, Children of Italy explores struggles—assimilation, unfair labor practices, discrimination—that the ancestors of many successful, proud Americans fought to overcome and that many immigrants still face in America today.
In the spring of 1924, after twelve years of toiling as a coal miner in Covel, West Virginia, Luigi Falconi has saved enough money to bring his wife and three daughters to America. The thought of his family's arrival in Ellis Island in nine days fills him with hope. He has only one regret: letting loneliness lead him to stray with the striking, smoldering Isolde. He breaks off his affair, reminding his lover that he had always been honest about his plan to reunite with Appollonia and again be a father to Giovanna, Maria, and Evelina. Though she promises not to make trouble, Isolde does not take rejection lightly—and has a plan of her own. Meanwhile, on the voyage from Italy, thirteen-year-old Giovanna has her first taste of romance with a young member of the ship's crew. Alessandro, much like Isolde, will not let love walk away without a fight.
Spanning four years, Children of Italy follows the Falconi family from West Virginia to Yorkville, Ohio, and through adversity, revelations, and tough choices. With the help of Appollonia's brother, Bernandino, Luigi lands a job in a mill—and strives to protect his wife from his shameful secret. Giovanna blossoms into a lovely, strong woman torn between the memory of her first love and her unexpected attraction to a serious young suitor. Alessandro's persistent search for Giovanna intersects with Isolde's bitter efforts to get Luigi back. Packed with suspense and surprises, tragedy and triumphs, Children of Italy is ultimately a story of survival, hope, and the power of family.
CHRISTINE SIMOLKE is a former language arts teacher with a master's degree in English. She has two grown sons and lives in North Carolina with her husband. Children of Italy is her first novel.