PAPER FISH by Tina De Rosa

PAPER FISH

KIRKUS REVIEW

 First published in a limited edition in 1980 by a small press in Chicago, and long out of print, De Rosa's debut fiction indeed deserves this full-scale republication. Understated, lyrical, and intensely imagistic, De Rosa's tale of Italian ghetto life stands out from other immigrant narratives by virtue of its artistry. Ignore the long and trendy afterword by Edvige Giunta, which buries De Rosa's subtleties in the lingo of multiculturalism and gender studies. If this meditation on time and identity was missed the first time around, it may have been less the victim of prejudice than of its own refinements. De Rosa's shifting interior monologues and her poignant vignettes follow a narrative logic of their own--hardly the stuff of conventional fiction. But a story does emerge from the impressionistic prose. On the West Side of Chicago, in the 1940s, in an ethnic neighborhood now vanished, a young couple raise two girls next door to the husband's mother's home. He's an Italian American policeman married to a Lithuanian. The mother-in-law is a wise old widow whose folksy Catholicism is composed of equal parts superstition and piety, and is never mawkish. The elder daughter, Doriana, is beautiful but apparently autistic, while her sister, Carmolina, an eight-year-old chatterbox and storyteller, is fiercely loyal to her mostly mute sibling. When she overhears the elders discussing Doriana's institutionalization, the distraught Carmolina flees. Her trolley-ride into unknown neighborhoods across town could easily be a ride into oblivion, and she's lost for three days, sending her family into a tailspin of recriminations and fears. Carmolina's distinctly American journey crosses through time as well, looking forward to her father's death, her beloved grandmother's passing, and the loss of an entire neighborhood. And with it, a way of life. A novel like this--so literary yet so full of life--takes time to find a wider audience. Perhaps that time has finally come.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-55861-146-0
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Feminist
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996