A historical novel focuses on a legendary union organizer and anarchist during the 20th century.
Angela Bambace is born in Brazil in 1898 and spends the first year of her life in Calabria, though Harlem is the initial place she calls home. Not yet a teenager, she witnesses the gruesome carnage of a garment factory that burns down to the ground on aptly named Misery Lane, a catastrophe that claims the lives of more than 140 workers, mostly immigrants and women. Nevertheless, Bambace follows her mother’s example out of economic necessity and becomes a seamstress, burdened by long hours and meager compensation. But she begins organizing for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and participates in the historically significant strikes of 1919, a watershed event in the transformation of labor dissatisfaction into a political movement, astutely portrayed by Lamphier (Iron Widow, 2019). Bambace is compelled to put her aspirations on hold when her father forces her into an arranged marriage with Romolo Camponeschi, an abusive husband with whom she bears two children. But she eventually leaves him—he sues her for divorce and full custody of the children—and falls in love with Luigi Quintiliano, a lawyer who worked for the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti. Bambace eventually moves to Baltimore to organize for the ILGWU, a temporary assignment that grows into a permanent, high-ranking post. This novel is part of the Mentoris Project, which highlights notable Italians and Italian-Americans. In these pages, the author deftly captures not only the social unrest of the time and the ghastly conditions under which laborers were compelled to work, but also the plight of female employees and Italians, both often cruelly dismissed by their counterparts. Lamphier shows Bambace tirelessly fighting for the rights of all workers, though her name is tarnished by her ideological association with anarchists, an affinity she proudly defends: “I am an anarchist because I believe people, all people, have the right to live with dignity, to work for a living wage, and to make real choices about their lives.” This is a historically edifying book, skillfully depicting both the tumultuous times and Bambace’s considerable contributions.
A rigorously researched tale about a union leader, brimming with historical insights and thrilling drama.