Reviews and Views
A BIT OF MYSELF
By Filomena Abys-Smith
Contact the author at 888-795-4274
We all know the story of Italian immigrants before World War II.
But what about those who came after?
Italians immigrated to postwar America but little has been written about them. Thus, we enthusiastically welcome "A Bit of Myself," by Filomena Abys-Smith. Hers is the rare memoir of an Italian family who came to America in the 1960s.
"A Bit of Myself," is as exciting to read as any contemporary saga. The highs and lows of Filomena's life are as eventful as a feature film; all the more intriguing because they really happened.
Filomena begins her book with fond recollections of Bagnoli, a small village outside Naples. She writes: "My earliest memories of life in Bagnoli are of simple pleasures enjoyed by happy people who took great care and pride in the smallest details of daily life but especially in preparing and serving meals."
Italy in the 1960s was still poor and rural. Life there was rugged as Filomena recounts how her grandmother slaughtered a chicken in the kitchen. "Nonna Carmela didn’t blink an eye; she simply grabbed the chicken by its partially severed head, and that night, we had a warm bowl of Stracciatella soup. Grief counseling was not given, and we suffered no apparent emotional disorder."
Italy may have been a tough land, but it was far safer, and more humane, than what Filomena and her family found in America. The family immigrated here in 1961 and settled in the Bronx. The city had begun, by then, its transformation into violence and degeneration. Filomena writes, "What memories do I recall most vividly of the first few months of reaching America? First is the feeling of sadness and disbelief. I asked my mother on many occasions when we could go back to Naples, back home to that sense of familiarity and of safety."
Where earlier generations of immigrants faced poverty and prejudice, Filomena and her family had to deal with those insults plus New York crime. As a little girl, she saw a stranger in the hallway of her apartment building shooting heroin. She writes: "From where I was standing and he was sitting, our eyes briefly met, and all I saw was a deep emptiness; he didn’t seem human to me. I felt not so much fear but disgust."
Filomena and her family overcame the drugs and gangs of the Bronx but not without serious tragedy. Through it all the family stayed true to the morals and principles instilled in them from Italy. Filomena's clean living gave her the strength to gain a college education and to see her husband Peter through difficult times of drug rehab and recovery.
Although the Neapolitan dialect may have been her first language, Filomena shows her mastery of English. Her writing is crisp and coherent amidst a rich vocabulary. "A Bit of Myself" comes with chapters that end with Neapolitan recipes named in reference to harrowing events of her life. Filomena's intriguing memoir is sometimes shocking and sad but always insightful and entertaining. Hers is a superb book for all Italian Americand as it stands as a testament to the Italian art of survival where time-tested Old World values of family, faith, and hard work come with a good meal at day's end.
PRIMO in Italy..
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