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Amazon Exclusive: Maria Laurino Reviews Elizabeth Street

Maria Laurinois the author of the memoirsOld World Daughter, New World Mother, a meditation on contemporary feminism, and the national bestseller,Were You Always an Italian?, an exploration of ethnic identity. Laurino's journalism has appeared in numerous publications, including theNew York TimesandThe Nation, and her essays have been widely anthologized. Read her exclusive guest review ofElizabeth Street:

When readers first meet Giovanna Costa, the protagonist of Elizabeth Street, she is a young woman about to get married in the small Italian fishing village of Scilla, situated between the Calabrian coast and Sicily’s Aeolian Islands. The town is home to the ancient story of Scylla, the once beautiful nymph turned mythical monster that devoured sailors trying to navigate the Straits of Messina. Midway through Laurie Fabiano’s page-turning novel, which is based on her own family history, Giovanna has landed in the New World but finds herself lodged between Scylla and Charybdis. She arrives grief stricken in New York after her beloved husband, Nunzio, has been killed on a badly managed construction site in Brooklyn. Eventually she will settle into an arranged second marriage, but her troubles continue to multiply. Giovanna will be forced to combat the nefarious forces of the Black Hand, the precursor to the Italian-American Mafia, which has threatened to tear apart her new family.

Supporting herself in New York first as a midwife, Giovanna teams up with a woman doctor from northern Italy. The two become close friends and the doctor shares medical knowledge that Giovanna will combine with her holistic midwifery skills. But Giovanna’s fate changes after deciding to open a small fruit and vegetable market with her new husband. The store is an easy source of potential revenue for criminals offering "protection services," and soon Giovanna’s family becomes their prey. With the same mix of disciplined study and the pinch of southern Italian mysticism that she applied to midwifery, Giovanna will take on the ruthless organized crime syndicate that has kidnapped her daughter and murdered the police lieutenant assigned to protect the neighborhood.

Mario Puzo once claimed, years after writing The Godfather, that he had based the infamous character of Don Corleone on his mother. Fabiano has created in Elizabeth Street a southern Italian heroine fighting those criminal forces that have long victimized poor and vulnerable immigrants. In this multigenerational, well-researched tale, the reader also learns interesting details of the common struggles facing southern Europeans coming to America--how, for instance, Ellis Island inspectors were instructed to mark northern and southern Italians as two separate races; and how the wages for common laborers in parts of the country were divided into three categories, the highest salary paid to "whites," the middle scale for "coloreds," and the lowest amount to "Italians."

Elizabeth Street is both a fascinating immigrant story and an intimate portrait of how a first-generation American--and the author’s own great-grandmother--outwits one of the most brutal crime organizations of the early 20th century. --Maria Laurino

Amazon Exclusive: Christopher Herz Interviews Laurie Fabiano

In this Amazon exclusive, we brought togetherAmazonEncoreauthors--and fellow New Yorkers--Christopher HerzandLaurie Fabianoto discuss Laurie's first novel,Elizabeth Street. Read on to see Christopher's questions for Laurie, or turn the tables to see whatshe asked him.

Christopher Herz: Where do you think that Giovanna draws her strength from? It seems as though at the start, it was from people and entities not of this earth, but with the coming of Angelina, she was grounded a bit. Is the name Angelina supposed to be an angel coming from beyond? A reward for her faith?

Laurie Fabiano: Giovanna was extremely religious and revered the patron saints. I believe her faith, and her family, gave her strength. Angelina was the name of Rocco’s first wife who died. When they married, they agreed that if they had a boy, it would be named Nunzio, and if they had a girl it would be named Angelina. Proving just how strong her faith was, when Giovanna had her son she named him Antonio for Saint Anthony, the patron saint of missing persons.

Christopher Herz: The sense of taste is everywhere through the book. What do you eat these days, which brings you back and ties you in with your family and its history?

Laurie Fabiano: My husband, Joseph, is Italian and the cook in the family. We still have family feasts at the holidays--and nothing brings me back more than a leisurely pasta dinner on Sunday afternoon. (We now call it pasta and sauce--but growing up it was "macaroni and gravy.")

Christopher Herz: I think this book would do very well if translated into other languages so that those who are going through the hard times of a first generation American can see what others went through. Do you feel the experience reaches across cultures?

Laurie Fabiano: Yes, very much so. When I spoke last year at the San Gennaro Feast, half the audience was Chinese! That was wonderful. With millions upon millions of Americans descended from immigrants, I don’t think you have to be Italian to see your family’s story reflected in the book.

Christopher Herz: The book read like an epic Opera for me. It was so full of every possible emotion. Was there anything that didn't make the final cut that you can let the reader in on? Any bonus features to share?

Laurie Fabiano: There was SO much that didn’t make the final cut. I ended up editing out nearly a third of the book. There were far more characters. For example, when Giovanna married Rocco, he had five children, not the three in the book. The oldest, Martha, was only 10 years younger than Giovanna and already married. Giovanna and Martha became close friends and Giovanna delivered her children. In a scene that could be part of a tragic opera, when Martha was delivering her second child, her first child, who was a toddler, slipped out of the apartment in the commotion. The child was struck and killed by a horse and cart at the same moment his sister was born.

Christopher Herz: This story was obviously written through you as much as it was written by you. What was the most touching moment where the characters in your novel crossed with the people in your family?

Laurie Fabiano: There are many. But the one that is perhaps most touching just occurred. When the book was published I began getting emails that started with, "I think I’m your cousin..." To make a long story short, 70 Siena cousins, most of whom had never met, came together for a family reunion as a result of Elizabeth Street. There is now a complete family tree dating from the 1600's to the newest cousin born a few weeks ago.

Christopher Herz: For me, after reading the book, every step I took around Elizabeth Street and Chinatown took on new meaning. How does the city look to you when you take a stroll? Are you able to stay in the modern day?

Laurie Fabiano: Not at all. When I’m in that area, I always see ghosts--ghosts of buildings, carts and sometimes people. If someone is walking with me they tend to get a running narrative on what happened where. In fact, I’ve written a walking tour of key sites in Elizabeth Street.

Christopher Herz: Who was the narrator in the story? Halfway through, I felt as if Nunzio was writing through you telling the story from above. Was it you?

Laurie Fabiano: There were definitely times that I felt like a conduit when I was writing this story. I heard Giovanna, Nunzio and Angelina’s voices alternately. There were a number of uncanny experiences. When I went to Scilla for the first time, I didn’t need a map; somehow I knew where everything was. After initially being freaked out, my husband just shook his head as I led us around.

Christopher Herz: In the book, the pictures of the notes seemed very authentic. Were those the real notes from the Black Hand?

Laurie Fabiano: No. My grandfather burned the notes one night when my grandmother woke up screaming with yet another nightmare (they continued throughout her life.) I wanted the notes to be in the book because they were such an important element of the Black Hand’s reign of terror. I studied real notes (there’s one in the Italian American Museum on Grand Street) and was struck by how juvenile they seemed--crude drawings, misspelled words, etc. About the same time, my gaze landed on my ten-year-old daughter. I handed her a charcoal pencil and brown paper and she went to work--but not before telling me that this was something she expected to be discussing with a therapist someday.

Christopher Herz: I went to Ellis Island while I was reading your book to retrace your characters steps. Have you been back since writing the book? What are the emotions running though you?

Laurie Fabiano: I’ve been many times, but not recently. Interestingly, through my research, my perspective on Ellis Island changed. Initially, it seemed like such a foreboding place but the more I learned, the more I realized that at its core, it was a very humane place. I think it’s something all Americans should be proud of.

Christopher Herz: How do you feel about the new laws facing immigrants who are trying to get into this country?

Laurie Fabiano: It breaks my heart. Obviously there needs to be controls, but I’m saddened that so many second and third generation Americans forget that their families weren’t so different from the ones today seeking a better life.

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Details

ISBN-10:  1935597027
ISBN-13:  978-1935597025
Author:  Laurie Fabiano
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Publisher:  AmazonEncore
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review by . May 20, 2010
As a tribute to her Italian American family, "Elizabeth Street" by author Laurie Fabiano works for the most part as a loving portrait of her great-grandmother and a bona fide look at the turn-of-the century southern Italian immigrant's journey from a land of taxation and poverty to the tenements of Manhattan. As Fabiano's tale is a fictionalized account of her family's real life experience in Little Italy, the trials and tribulations of assimilating in a foreign urban environment and the negative …
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