An affecting tale of an Italian immigrant’s struggle to make a life for himself in the United States.
After the unification of Italy brought with it a wave of economic distress, Michelangelo’s father traveled to America twice, looking for a way to support his family. Despite his success on his first trip, even more dire straits, and the urging of his wife prompted him to return a second time. He had a heart attack while overseas and never saw his family again. Protagonist Michelangelo inherited his father’s curiosity and wanderlust and longed to visit his grave, located in Connecticut. In 1909, he finally disembarks for the United States, and immediately learns what his father learned: that this land of opportunity can also be an unforgiving, dangerous place. Undaunted, he finds work in Pennsylvania at a steel mill and then a job on a building project in Ohio before finally setting off for Connecticut, where he has some family. There, he starts to lay down roots. He marries a woman he adores, has four daughters, and buys a home. He suffers a terrible accident while chopping wood, however, which results in the amputation of his arm and leaves him nearly unable to find work. Also, after nine years of marriage, his wife suddenly dies, leaving him without any help raising his children. The state threatens to take his children away if he proves unable to quickly find a means to care for them. In her first book, author Rizzo creates a seamless blend of fiction and nonfiction, largely based on conversations with her family and friends, creating a memoirlike novel. The abiding themes are Michelangelo’s virtuous indomitability and his transformation from Italian day laborer to Italian-American, or from Michelangelo to Mike. His allegiance to the U.S. comes through most clearly during World War II: “Mike was an American. He cried as many nights as he had prayed for his cousins and remnant family in Italy.” This is a touching, refreshing reminder of how much prosperity can spring from a generous spirit.
A heartwarming amalgam of personal fact, fiction, and history.