Paper Fish

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"Set on the West Side of Chicago during the 1940s and 1950s, Paper Fish is populated not by wiseguys or madonnas, but by working-class immigrants whose heroism lies in their quiet, sometimes tragic humanity. In her brilliant telling of the life and ultimate disintegration of three generations in an Italian American family, Tina De Rosa rebuilds this long-lost world with prose that is both breathtaking and profound." At the center of the novel is young Carmolina, who is torn between the bonds of the past and the pull of the future - a need for ...
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Overview

"Set on the West Side of Chicago during the 1940s and 1950s, Paper Fish is populated not by wiseguys or madonnas, but by working-class immigrants whose heroism lies in their quiet, sometimes tragic humanity. In her brilliant telling of the life and ultimate disintegration of three generations in an Italian American family, Tina De Rosa rebuilds this long-lost world with prose that is both breathtaking and profound." At the center of the novel is young Carmolina, who is torn between the bonds of the past and the pull of the future - a need for home and a yearning for independence. De Rosa deftly interweaves Carmolina's story with the haunting stories of her family: Old Country memories and legends passed on by her devoted grandmother Doria; the courtship tale of her father, a policeman with an artist's soul, and her mother, a lonely waitress; and the painful story of Doriana, her beautiful but silent sister.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A first novel about Italian American immigrant life in the '40s and '50s. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In 1995, De Rosa won the Jaffe Foundation Award, which is given in support of emerging women writers. This intense, moving first novel of Italian American life in one of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods during the 1940s and 1950s shows that the award was well deserved. In poetic prose, De Rosa paints a portrait both realistic and haunting of a subculture where all the important decisions of life were made in the kitchen. At the center of the novel is vivacious, eight-year-old Carmolina, whose life is complicated by her relationship with her beloved older sister, Doriana, beautiful but mute. When Carmolina overhears talk of Doriana's impending institutionalization, she runs away from home, traveling through the city on a three-day journey that is a learning experience for both her and her family. Originally published in a limited edition in 1980, this book is a fine achievement.Vicki J. Cecil, Hartford City P.L., Ind.
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781558611450
  • Publisher: Feminist Press at The City University of New York
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 0.54 (d)

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