Five Great Novels of Italian-American Immigration

Jun 21, 2019 220

John Domini’s The Color Inside a Melon is published today. He shares five novels of Italian-American immigration, noting, “The Great American Novel, that creature of legend, could only be a novel of immigration. Newcomers—willing or otherwise—created this catchall of a country, and the ongoing wrangle of assimilation defines both the Bohemians of Willa Cather’s My Antonìa, published 1918, and the Nigerians of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, which appeared a century later. So when Jane Ciabattari asked me for a short list of great immigrant novels, I needed to think smaller. I kept my choices close to home, as the son of an immigrant out of Southern Italy.

Puzo of course gave us The Godfather, still the elephant in the room when it comes to novels of Italian America. This earlier beauty includes a few Mafia figures, part of the landscape for an extended immigrant family in lower Manhattan, in the decade or so before World War Two. Their struggle to live honorably in this godforsaken New World, Mannagia America, is distinguished especially by the woman keeping the brood together, Lucia Santa. Even a detail like how she prepares coffee can prove Lucia a heroine.

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