This riveting debut novel by Giordano charts the passage of two young Italian men to early twentieth century New York, as they strive to make their mark in the New World.
Leonardo has a strong sense of rectitude, and respect for his family, yet a life in Naples, for him, signals a life wasted. Hugging farewell to his tearful mother, he boards the steamship Prinzessin Irene, bound for Ellis Island, New York. Carlo, meanwhile is the son of the powerful Don Salvatore Mazzi, who flees to America to avoid being arrested for murder. Arriving in the great metropolis, they soon become all too aware how Italians are the target of brutal discrimination. One passerby remarks: “Did you get a whiff of that? Italians from down in the boot reek of garlic and body odor.”  In a city that appears to have pitted itself against them, the men must fight for recognition. Leonardo seeks an honest path, vying for work in the dockyards among the Irish, who despite being marginalized themselves, reject Italians as subhuman. Carlo meanwhile becomes involved in a counterfeiting scam which goes horribly wrong. The two men’s paths finally cross when they share lodgings and fall in love with the same woman, the beautiful and enigmatic Azzura Medina. The novel demonstrates how the rapacious nature of big city life, and machinations of the criminal underworld rapidly shapes and distorts the new arrivals’ characters. A sense desperation and viciousness is palpable: “Carlo withdrew the knife and dug it into Shippen’s chest. Shippen’s eyes bulged. He squirmed. Carlo withdrew the knife and raised it to stab again. Shippen made a choking sound. His eyes dulled, and he stopped struggling”.  Yet, the novel is held together by a carefully structured plot that does not rely merely on gratuitous violence. The psychological development of Leonardo and Carlo is fascinating, although the author may slightly neglect describing the outer appearance of his characters in detail. Part thriller, part love story, part coming-of-age narrative, this book’s appeal reaches successfully beyond the often restrictive confines of its genre.
A refreshing rethink of the archetypal mafia novel.