- Alda Merini (Author)
A Rage of Love. Guernica Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Marilia Bonincontro (Editor)
L'Esilio della Poesia: Poeti italo-canadesi. Noubs (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- F. G. Paci (Author)
The Rooming-House. Oberon Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Fiorella De Luca Calce (Author)
Vinnie and Me. Guernica Editions (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Joseph Pivato
Italian-Canadian writing has expanded and diversified over the past decade in ways that Pier Giorgio DiCicco could hardly have imagined when he first edited Roman Candles in 1978. The books reviewed here indicate some of this growth both in the number of titles which appear every year and in the quality of the writing itself. The Rooming-House is Frank Paci’s seventh novel since he wrote The Italians in 1978. Pad, one of the founding authors of Italian-Canadian writing, is best known for his second novel, Black Madonna, a work still popular in university literature courses. The Rooming-House is the fourth novel in the series that began with Black Blood, and tells the life story of Marco Trecroci, a young man who grew up in an Italian immigrant family in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. In the previous volume, Sex and Character, Mark, as a student at the University of Toronto, is encouraged to write by Margaret Laurence when he shows her his manuscript for a novel. She asks him, "Why didn’t you write about your background . .. you know, your family and roots. .. ?" Paci has followed this advice; ever since he has devoted his novels to exploring the lives of Italian immigrants and their children. The series of four novels is a KÃ¼nstlerroman, an apprenticeship story about the development of the artist.
In The Rooming-House Mark has finished his degree and is working as a proofreader for Dave Godfrey at Adanac Press, a nationalist publisher. The senior editor, Charlie Macrae, is not willing to recommend Mark for a junior arts grant to finish his novel: "According to Macrae, I don’t even know the language well enough. As if I’m doomed because my mother tongue isn’t English like his." This, of course, is a criticism often leveled at ethnic minority writers as if there was only one acceptable way to use the English language. Paci, Nino Ricci, Rohinton Mistry and M.G. Vassanji have demonstrated that people from other cultures can be successful English novelists. Individuals like Macrae are wrong in other ways as well; Mark needs to develop as a writer not by studying language but rather by growing into a well-rounded man. This narrative focuses on Mark’s relationships with various women he meets in the rooming-house and in his work. He becomes infatuated with the older woman, Marian, an editor-writer at the press, and with Milly the sexually-active next-door neighbor. Despite his sexual fantasies, what Mark gets from these and other women is not sex but sad stories about their shattered lives. Mark learns to see them less as sex objects and more as real human beings who need love. This maturity prepares Mark for Amanda, the woman he falls in love with near the end of the novel. They plan to go to Europe together, a further step in Mark’s education as a writer.
Unlike the previous volumes in this series The Rooming-Houseis less concerned with abstract philosophical ideas and more with human relationships. Not since Black Madonna has Paci been so interested in understanding the psychology of women, and there are a variety of women in this novel. Through the naive Mark we explore the motivation and behaviour, their fears and aspirations. Maybe this son of immigrants can bring some new insights into our knowledge of human relationships. It is a pleasure to read Paci’s characteristic plain prose style, a transparency that tries to reveal each character realistically and yet within the context of greater forces in civilization.
Fiorella De Luca Cake continues her exploration of human relationships in the Italian community of Montreal with her second novel, Vinnie and Me. This short narrative deals with the peculiar friendship of a young girl and boy, Piera and Vinnie, and their trials and tribulations at school and home. Piera is a bright student who aspires to be an artist while Vinnie is a free spirit who often gets into trouble. Vinnie helps his friend get into art school despite her lack of faith in her own abilities. Like her first novel, Toni, this work seems to be directed at younger readers who can identify with the characters, but the success of Toni suggests that Calce has appeal for a broad readership. This young writer has mastered the form of the short novel and we expect that soon she will produce a longer work of fiction.
With A Rage of Love the Italian writer Alda Merini gives us a memoir of her experiences as a patient in a mental hospital. In poetic prose she explores the depth of mental illness with a clarity that will strike any reader. The Italian-Canadian poet Pasquale Verdicchio has rendered into English Merini’s complex vision of a life buried in illness. Verdicchio is one of the most active translators of Italian poetry and through his work on Antonio Porta, Giorgio Caproni and Alda Merini he maintains the links between the literature of Italy and that of Canada. His own collections of poetry, Approaches to Absence (1994) and Nomadic Trajectory (1990) reflect the linguistic influence of these Mediterranean writers. His recent translation of Antonio Gramsci, The Southern Question, indicates the valuable work of these writers on questions of social and political import. Whether it is his translations or his original poetry Verdicchio is a writer who merits closer attention. Credit is also due to Guernica editions for supporting these translation projects.
Marilia Bonincontro’s anthology of Italian-Canadian poets is meant for readers back in Italy and is an indication of the interest which these writers have stirred up in Europe. This bilingual collection includes work by Pier Giorgio DiCicco, Mary Melfi and Mary di Michèle who write in English and by Fulvio Caccia and Filippo Salvatore who work in French. All the poems have the Italian version on facing pages. Even fans of Italian-Canadian writing will be surprised by the number of books, articles and theses that are now devoted to the work of these sons and daughters of immigrants. And now with the translation of their work back in Italy the pattern of cultural exchange has become an endless circle which we hope will go on forever.
- L'éclosion de plans by Matthew Manera
Books reviewed: Histoire d'oeufs by Michel Saint-Germain and Sharon L. Sparling and La division de l'intérieur by Mireille Calle-Gruber
- Quêtes by Emmanuel Bouchard
Books reviewed: Epiphany, Arizona by Pierre Barrette, La lenteur du monde by Michel Pleau, and Les Yeux sur moi by Martin Thibault
- The Spiritual Subject by Amanda Lim
Books reviewed: Ox by Christopher Patton, More to Keep Us Warm by Jacob Scheier, Riding Backwards on Dragon: A Poet's Journey Through Liuhebafa by Kim Goldberg, I Will Ask for Birds by Kelly Parson, and Duet for Wings and Earth by Barbara Colebrook Peace
- Uncomplicated Luck by Lisa Grekul
Books reviewed: Summer of My Amazing Luck by Miriam Toews
- Abelard and Hell-Louise by Marta Dvorak
Books reviewed: The Romantic by Barbara Gowdy
MLA: Pivato, Joseph. Italian-Canadian Diversity. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #156 (Spring 1998). (pg. 156 - 158)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.