MY TWO ITALIES book review by John K Tucci

Joseph is a writer I really identify with. His family is from Calabria like my family. He is among the first generation of his family to go to college in America like I am. He likes books like me.

His first book My Two Italies inspires
a lot reflection.

Having read this book twice, I frequently reflect upon what does the title mean.

Is the title a merely a direct reference to the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley observation in 1818 when he wrote:

There are two Italies— one composed of the green earth and transparent sea, and the mighty ruins of ancient time, and aerial mountains, and the warm and radiant atmosphere which is interfused through all things. The other consists of the Italians of the present day, their works and ways. The one is the most sublime and lovely contemplation that can be conceived by the imagination of man; the other is the most disgusting and odious.

Or does the title more subtly reflect that it is the Italy our parents left and the piece of Italy they created in America that lives within people like us?

Does the title harken back to two Italies in our heritage land – the North and the South continuing to be uneasy with each other more than 150 years after Garabaldi?

Luzzi never explicitly explains and that’s part of the intrigue of the book.

Rather, Luzzi notes that many Americans separate Italy, the Land of Dante, from Italian America, the Turf of Tony Soprano and Snooki.

“We Italian Americans suffer from a form of cultural schizophrenia, half of our soul nourished by centuries of European arts and letters, the other half contaminated by Luca Brasi and Jackie Aprile,” he writes.

“We Italian Americans suffer from a form of cultural
schizophrenia, half of our soul nourished by centuries of European arts and letters, the other half contaminated by Luca Brasi and Jackie Aprile,” he writes.

Luzzi recalls that as Tony Soprano might say, “You know, we’re not really like them, those ’mericani; We Italian
Americans, we’re not really like them either, those italiani
you know, the real deal you get over in Italy.”

Does the title reflect Luzzi’s belief
that the Italian family is like Italy itself: “fragmented on the surface, riven by intrigue, resistant to change, suspicious of outsiders, and quick to set individual interests over group ones? Yet, like Italy, la famiglia has an overarching sense of identity that has withstood centuries of disunity,
corruption, foreign occupation, and church intervention.”


Entwined among Luzzi’s reflections is his memoir of
growing up Italian in America.

 Luzzi recalls that during his freshman year at Tufts, he shared a dorm with one of the campus’s international beauties, Gisela from Turin. He recollects of the reader:

She was rail thin, she chain-smoked, and she
seemed to know her way around a Swiss après ski. Light skinned and as sleek as a Ferrari, she stood
worlds apart from the thick, black-haired women I had grown up with. She was a real European— and she let me know it. When I told her that my parents and older siblings were born in Italy, in Calabria, she snorted. “That’s Africa,” she said, “not Italy.”        


I was twice degraded in her eyes: not
a real American, like the kids from Choate and Collegiate who tooled around campus in their Mazda convertibles and Volvo wagons, and not Italian, with my dark hair, dark eyes, and increasingly dark worldview. My year abroad was
not a program of study; it was a cry for help.

(Luzzi, Joseph. My Two Italies (p. 165). Farrar, Straus and
Giroux. Kindle Edition.)

For a relatively slim volume, Luzzi pours out his heart with so many reflections he seemed to keep bottled up until he could pour them into this book.

Ultimately, he may speak for many like him and me when he mused:


“We commemorate our past only to remind ourselves how far we have traveled from it.”

 

 

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