A deadly slice of Italian immigrant life centering on 16-year-old Gabriella de Luca--who, at the outset, is caught up in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire (a cousin perishes; it might have been she) and, at the close, is about to go to Barnard College. In between, there's a flashback to near-starvation and oppression in Italy--Mama is forced to succumb to the lecherous postmaster to get the precious tickets to America that Papa has sent--and a long, long account of the fate of Papa's labor-organizer idol, who has never appeared in the flesh. None of these persons draws an unfettered breath, however: Papa is the prototypical enlightened, injustice-protesting peasant; tradition-bound Mama is, nonetheless, ""a rock""; and Gabriella, rebellious and bookish, is the new world a-coming. Realism, meanwhile, is slathered on via ostensible candor about sex: ""Sleepily,"" five-year-old Gabriella remembers what her mother has said ""about bread being either long like a man's organ or round like the opening in a woman."" Crude from any point of view.