Bonpensiero (Chocolate Moon, 2011), a retired Sicilian-American Air Force officer, seeks to bury the hatchet about his mobster uncle in this tightly knit narrative.
In the 1970s, while serving in the Air Force, Bonpensiero was hit with news of his uncle’s murder through a high-profile article in Time magazine. Uncle Frank was a mobster, a black sheep from whom the author had been trying to distance himself. Looking to provide some closure and to counteract clichés about the Sicilian community, Bonpensiero delivers a detailed account of his family history with a focus on his notorious relative. Working with anecdotes and personal recollections, he describes a childhood growing up in San Diego’s Little Italy in the 1940s. His father, Salvatore, aka Sammy or Turi, started out as a fisherman, but ill health rerouted his career to that of a successful businessman managing a string of restaurants and bars in the city. Frank’s disreputable activities always cast a shadow on Sammy’s businesses, however, leading the authorities to routinely come sniffing. As niputi (nephew), the author was witness to his uncle’s bullying tactics, his “You ask, I give, you owe!” methods of extortion and forced allegiance. Even more frustrating for the boy was his father’s endless patience with his difficult brother. While the account might suffer from a surfeit of anecdotes and some language that comes close to political incorrectness, Bonpensiero succeeds in painting a picture of a closely knit immigrant community and a wayward son who, to put it mildly, regularly tried everyone’s nerves. Along the way, readers see the unfolding of an American life, one colored by the Sicilian immigrant experience. The trinakria, an icon borrowed from the Greeks, graces the beginning of every chapter—a reminder, Bonpensiero says, that Sicilians are of mixed Greek heritage, that “Sicilians are/were a distinct people from the Italians, with or without the Mafia.”
An entertaining narrative that sheds light on family ties and a distinctive cultural identity.