A uniquely American tale of the lasting impact of war, the power of friendship, and a fraught bond between father and son.


In La Piana’s novel, the son of Italian immigrants struggles to understand his remote father while growing up in Los Angeles.

John Russo is an enigma to his only child, the narrator of La Piana’s first novel. Every day, Russo goes to a factory where he “loads endless cases of paint into living-room-sized trailers that are then pulled away by big diesels.” After work, he heads home, eats a meal with his in-laws, wife and son, and then collapses in front of the television before going to bed. Russo doesn’t beat his son—though many fathers do in Pico Rivera, east of East LA—but he also doesn’t engage with him at all. As the narrator finds his place in the neighborhood, he learns that his olive skin and immigrant family qualify him as “brown” rather than a “paddy.” He also tries to make sense of his father’s withdrawal from the world. In one instance—when Russo intervenes in a neighbor’s drunken attack on his wife—the narrator sees a spark of the man his father once was, but that light quickly fades. As a teenager, the narrator frequently brushes against criminality and death, losing one of his childhood friends in a shooting and himself almost dying from a stabbing. Miraculously, he survives high school and is accepted into college; he also learns about his father’s World War II experience in the Battle of Kasserine Pass, “one of the worst defeats of American arms in any war.” Although the narrator doesn’t make this discovery until college, La Piana’s novel alternates between the narrator’s coming of age and Russo’s harrowing battle to stay alive in North Africa. La Piana writes insightfully about the tense interplay of race, ethnicity and class in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s. For example, when describing the neighborhood’s reaction to a gay couple, the narrator observes: “In poor neighborhoods people tend to use impolite terms for groups of people, like queer, paddy, or nigger, but they also tend to treat individual people from those groups like they treat everybody else. Middle class folks, on the other hand, know better than to call people names, but they also tend, inadvertently of course, to avoid people who are different from themselves.” La Piana’s characters are similarly nuanced for the most part, although his choice to highlight Russo’s accent using nonstandard spellings such as “dey” and “dem” can distract from the damage caused by his experiences in the war.

A uniquely American tale of the lasting impact of war, the power of friendship, and a fraught bond between father and son.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2013

ISBN: 978-1492965329

Page Count: 246

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 27, 2014

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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