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Book description

Book description
Wow. I mean, wow! First, di Donatos powers as a writer humble me. This book is touted as a social justice novel, but its not quite the screed that Upton Sinclairs The Jungle was at times; di Donatos book is a cry to the heavens, it plumbs the mysteries and pleads with heart and soul the essential question: Why? There are passages in this book that Ive never seen equaled in terms of poignancy about the human condition, about loss and grief, and the belief and hope that our lost ones accompany us and watch over us. Sinclairs book---one of my all-time favorites---begins brilliantly with an Old Country wedding, and that seemingly natural way of life is contrasted with the ostensibly richer hopes of the New World, which becomes an unremitting stinking hellhole of merciless misery and injustice. Jurgis Rudkis works harder, but things only worsen. Theres a glimmer of hope, but not much. In Sinclairs book, the immigrants are Lithuanians toiling in the rank hell of the Chicago packinghouses. In di Donatos, the hopefuls hail from Italy, plying their skills in the precarious, dangerous environs of New York Citys building construction sites. In di Donatos book, the American city yields its tragedy early on; a tragedy that haunts everyone for the rest of the book. And yet, in the second to the last chapter, we have an inverse of Sinclair: an Old Country wedding, not in the old country, but in the new. Wine stomping and a night of sumptuous eating and partying inside the tenement block. This wedding chapter, Fiesta, is an astounding tour de force. Whats gloomy in Sinclair is more like yearning in di Donato.Things become grim in this book, and yet the optimism of these people, these Italian immigrants is always to the fore. Somehow they get by, the family and the extended family are strong. So, for all its darkness, this book is constantly one of positivity. Its hard to quite put a finger on how di Donato pulls this off, yet he does. The author writes in a myriad of styles, always dense and passionate, occasionally experimental but never obscure. This is a book of incredible metaphors and imagery. Harrowing descriptions of death, and dreams, of nostalgia. Its sometimes as florid as its opera-loving characters. Its passions are not contained, yet it never feels sappy or sentimental. It feels genuine. It is heartfelt, deeply so. This book will make you cry. It made me.Theres an excellent 1949 film version, also worthy and for a long time banned for butting up against the forces of McCarthyism.I veer into hyperbole: One of the greatest books ever written. It must be.
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