Unto the Daughters, by Karen Tintori. St. Martin’s Press, 2007.
Review by Stephanie Longo
Francesca Costa’s name and face would have been lost to family lore had it not been for her great-niece’s steadfast and unwavering love.
Karen Tintori’s Unto the Daughters is not only a chilling and sobering account of an honor killing in a turn-of-the-century Sicilian family– it is also a beautifully heartbreaking testimony of love that spans generations and how the voice of truth cannot be silenced.
Francesca Costa was a typical Italian in early twentieth-century Detroit– young and curious, desiring to cast off the pall of her rigid upbringing and marry for love. The only surviving photo of Francesca showcases her deeply penetrating eyes at her older sister’s wedding… eyes that would witness her older brothers kill her for spurning the much older mafioso who wanted to marry her in favor of the young barber with whom she had fallen in love and to whom she was secretly married.
While this alone is tragic, Francesca’s story takes an even more disturbing turn. It wasn’t enough for her brothers to brutally murder her and dispose of her body in a watery grave and then proudly boast of their feat to the mafia boss in question… shortly after her brutal demise, they destroyed every last shred of evidence that she even existed, except they didn’t succeed in eradicating her memory from the pages of time.
When Ms. Tintori saw the scratched-out name of her great-aunt on her great-grandfather’s passport, she began to ask questions. A journalist by trade, she read between the lines of family lore that said her aunt had run away to become a gun moll, among other things. Slowly, but surely, she began to piece together the details of Francesca’s life– refusing to allow her memory or her legacy to be forgotten.
Where Unto the Daughters turns from a true crime story into a triumph of the human spirit is through Ms. Tintori’s deftly interwoven stories about her own family and how, slowly but carefully, the women of the family were able to craft their own identity… following in the footsteps of Francesca herself. One particularly interesting moment is when Ms. Tintori decides to convert to Judaism to marry her husband– in light of Francesca’s story, one shudders to think what might have happened had Ms. Tintori lived in another era.
This book should be required reading in any Italian-American History class, as well as anyone wishing to study the female’s role in the Italian family. This book, while not an exercise in journalism, could also prove beneficial to students of the craft as Ms. Tintori’s prior training in the field served her well while untangling her great-aunt’s mystery.
In a private note provided to this reviewer upon receipt of the book, Ms. Tintori mentioned that Francesca’s 100th wedding anniversary was on the horizon and that in 2015 she had found proof. To me, this statement proves her heart– her love for Francesca and her story transcended even the publication of her book in her honor and I have no doubt that she will continue to do what she can to honor her great-aunt’s memory.
Unto the Daughters proves that all stories of our ancestors deserve to be told, the good, the bad and the ugly… and perhaps that is Francesca Costa’s legacy to us all. Her refusal to be bound by the chains of convention may have cost her her life, but her example helps give life to many Italian American women who might be hesitant when trying to buck tradition. Now that we know the truth of what happened to this innocent young girl, we now have the ability to ask “What tragedies or unspeakable events happened in my family?” and open a dialogue that heretofore may have been avoided so that in the end, the truth truly could come to light.
Movieola by John Domini
Reviewed by Stephanie Longo
Monica Bellucci once said, “We all need illusions—that’s why we love movies.” John Domini in his short story collection Movieola!, seeks to unmask those illusions by turning the camera lens away from the actors’ craft and toward the inner world of all those who participate in the film genre, whether as spectator or creator.
The ten linked stories contained in Movieola! take readers on a journey of film creation—from the trailer to closing credits. All of the stories feature a fast-paced narrative, commanding readers to take notice and obey the perennial “Please silence all cell phones” graphic found on screen upon entering the movie theater. One distraction could very easily cause readers to lose the thread of the story, just like in the movies.
Donnini excels with his satirical prose—a particular standout is the story “Making the Trailer,” where he mentions common characters used in blockbuster films (and their soundtracks), such as the hit men, the “Aging Rock Star with a Gospel Choir” and the “Artist Going to Hell with an Inappropriate Girlfriend.” These characters leave the readers saying, “Yes, I’ve seen them before.”
Movieola! is best suited for a film lover who also happens to love to read as Donnini’s masterful wordplay can be lost on the uninitiated. Nowhere is this seen better than in the final story, “Closing Credits Fun & Counterforce,” as Donnini quite literally paints a picture of a film’s closing credits by words. While a film watcher may not necessarily pay attention to the credits, unless they know someone in them, readers of Movieola! are forced to follow them word-by-word.
Overall, Movieola! is like your favorite film—meant to be watched over and over.
Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani
Reviewed by Stephanie Longo
Adriana Trigiani’s latest novel brings postwar Italian-American life to center stage
Nicky Castone never had his sights set on an acting career but, as Adriana Trigiani’s latest novel Kiss Carlo demonstrates, the road we think we’re traveling usually changes course several times before we reach our destination.
Kiss Carlo opens in Roseto Valfortore, Italy, when ambassador Carlo Guardinfante sets out to Roseto, Pennsylvania, to ask the immigrant population there to help out with their native town’s post World War II reconstruction.
With Carlo en route to Roseto, the story jumps to Philadelphia, where we meet Nicky Castone and his family. By day, Nicky works as a cab driver for his Uncle Dom and by night he works at a struggling theater run by the passionate Calla Borelli. Nicky gets bit by the acting bug one night when he has to take over for a sick actor and his life’s path quickly begins to change, calling off his seven-year engagement to Peachy DePino in the process. When a telegram announcing Carlo’s delay arrives at the cab company, Nicky seizes the opportunity to flee to Roseto to avoid Peachy’s family and hilarity ensues.
In Kiss Carlo, Trigiani deftly explores Italian familial relations, including Nicky’s relationship with his aunt and uncle, who treat him as a son, as well as his uncle’s relationship with his estranged brother, demonstrating a case of stereotypical Italian stubbornness. The novel also explores Italian-American ties to the homeland, with the citizens of Roseto, Pennsylvania, being more than proud of their forebears’ legacy.
The novel’s supporting cast includes Hortense Mooney, the African-American cab dispatcher who goes to Roseto with Nicky. Trigiani weaves Hortense’s story in with traditional race