The Black Madonna: A Novel

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Overview

The Black Madonna has long protected her mountain villagers in southern Italy, and some say she followed her people to America. What else explains the magic and miracles on Spring Street in Little Italy over the decades?

Teresa, whose son Nicky should never have walked again after his four-story fall, keeps a holy card of the Black Madonna hidden beneath her underwear. Magdalena, beautiful and mysterious, can make any man fall in love with her, including her stepson Salvatore, ...

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Overview

The Black Madonna has long protected her mountain villagers in southern Italy, and some say she followed her people to America. What else explains the magic and miracles on Spring Street in Little Italy over the decades?

Teresa, whose son Nicky should never have walked again after his four-story fall, keeps a holy card of the Black Madonna hidden beneath her underwear. Magdalena, beautiful and mysterious, can make any man fall in love with her, including her stepson Salvatore, by praying secretly to an image of the Black Madonna in her attic. And Antoinette, after giving birth to five girls, had Jumbo, the biggest baby Spring Street ever saw — once she had the Black Madonna's portrait in her kitchen.

Vibrant, dark-souled creatures who get their way, control their lives, and pass on arcane knowledge like family heirlooms from generation to generation, Teresa, Magdalena, and Antoinette, with their intersecting lives, take center stage in The Black Madonna. This is an exploration of how each woman, and her beloved son, is forever changed by the Madonna of Viggiano. Louisa Ermelino's wonderful novel reveals a delicious truth: that it is the Italian-American women who hold the secrets — and the power — from the "other side," and that they know how to use them.

A celebration of mother love and magic, The Black Madonna is filled with the sights, sounds, smells, and taste of Little Italy. Ultimately, it is a vibrant and life-affirming saga that all Americans will want to embrace as their own.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Never mind the Mafia; it's the mamas you have to watch out for. At least that's what Ermelino would have you believe in her zesty debut novel about life in New York's Little Italy from the '40s through the '60s. In an old-fashioned neighborhood where the people who have surrounded you all your life can be depended on to behave in predictable ways, a group of women gather nightly on a Spring Street stoop, mothers willing to protect their children at all costs. There's Teresa, whose young son Nicky loses the power to walk following an accident, only to miraculously regain it at the funeral of the father who abandoned him; Magdalena, the siren from the Old Country, married to an older man with "connections"; and Antoinette, mother to Jumbo, the largest bambino (at approximately 23 pounds) that Spring Street has ever seen. These women all believe strongly in fate, but when fate needs a little shove, they're more than willing to provide it, particularly when Jumbo, now grown, takes up with a nice Jewish girl. All the women pray to the eponymous black-faced Madonna, a famous statue in Viggiano, Italy, and some see their prayers answered. Ermelino catches the earthy voices of her Italian-American blue-collar paisanos, and she weaves a fast-moving plot that makes up for its thinness with atmospheric detail. Though essentially more a collection of vignettes than a novel, the warmth and humor of this slice-of-lives storytelling are seductive. Agent, Elaine Markson. (Mar.) Forecast: With blurbs from, among others, Fay Weldon, Susan Isaacs and Vincent Patrick, this novel should garner reviewer and reader attention. That Ermelino still lives in Manhattan's Little Italy could prove a useful publicity hook and, if tapped into, her media experience--with TV's Top Cops, at Time and People, and currently at In Style, where she's a reporter--will help sell books. Featuring great roles for character actresses, this engaging novel has TV sitcom potential. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The Godfather. The Sopranos. How about an alternative view of Italian American life? In her second novel (after Joey Dee Gets Wise: A Novel of Little Italy. o.p.), Ermelino goes beyond the male-dominated stereotypes to focus on the indomitable women of New York's Little Italy. From the 1930s to the 1960s, we follow Teresa, Antoinette, and Magdelena as they struggle to hold on to their three sons. All three women live in the same neighborhood, and all the boys are friends. This is a time of stoop-sitting and serious gossip, and the flavors of the neighborhood are as sharp as the tang of tomato sauce. Ermelino eloquently and lovingly captures an era similar to that found in Rita Cireci's Sometimes I Dream in Italian (LJ 8/00). It's refreshing to step back in time and get an honest feel for Italian American family life. For all fiction collections.--Beth Gibbs, formerly with P.L. of Charlotte & Mecklenburg Cty., NC Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Ermelino injects warm, good-natured emotions into a colorful tale of Italian-Americans in the middle of the last century. Families who live in New York City's Spring Street tenements share their love for good food, family ties, and gossip on the front stoop. In special cases, mystical prayers for intercession to the Black Madonna emanate from three powerful women, Teresa, Antoinette, and Magdalena. They share their stories against this backdrop, with all of the humor, sadness, and everyday miracles typical of life. The women focus all of their energy, ambitions, love, and forays into magical prayers and supplications on their sons, or, in Magdalena's case, stepson. These young men, in turn, share their adventures with all of the intertwinings such close proximity implies. The author conjures up details of tenement life, and her female characters are unique yet still able to represent the quintessential portrait of the widow. The young men are just as individual, especially as they become adults, each seeking his own way, yet still tied to his mother, his culture, and the neighborhood in which he was raised. Capturing an era, the specific locale, and the ethnic force of these people, Ermelino provides a glimpse into another time and place with a touch of magical realism in the presence of the Black Madonna.-Pam Johnson, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A genial debut from Kirkus reviewer Ermelino, a reporter for InStyle, celebrates neighborhood culture, testifies to the power of women in a peasant-based society, and smartly counters the prevailing stereotypes of Italian-Americans from the not-so-mean streets of New York's Little Italy. The Italian mommas in Ermelino's three linked narratives let no men oppress them, but rely on the power of their patroness, the Black Madonna of Viggiano, to solve their earthly dilemmas. Teresa Sabatini, who lives with her young son on Spring Street while her merchant marine husband is fighting the war at sea, endures the constant questions of her nosy neighbors. When her beloved son cripples himself playing Tarzan on the fire escape, Teresa looks to her elusive husband for help and comes up with a double miracle. The second story, set in the '30s, a decade earlier, explains how Magdalena Caparetti, a young beauty from the old country, manages to snag eligible widower Amadeo Pavese, a successful American merchant visiting his relatives in Italy. With the help of the Virgin's magic, Amodeo's aunt and uncle, who rely on his monthly check, combine folklore and foodlore to arrange a suitable match. In the third tale, both Magdalena and Teresa lend their cunning to their haughty neighbor Antoinette Mangiacarne, whose son, Jumbo, once their own sons' playmate, wants to move away from what passes for his home in the 1960s—he lives with his mother in the same building as his five married sisters and tends bar in the neighborhood in order to settle a bad gambling debt—and marry a Jewish girl from Long Island. The mother-son struggle and the inter-ethnic culture clash resultinsome fine, andfinely climactic, low comedy. All these momma's boys undermine popular notions of Italian machismo and suggest unexplored relations between old-country ways and new-world realities: a welcome antidote to"fuhggeddaboudit."
From the Publisher
Rita Ciresi author of Sometimes I Dream in Italian Bad boys and good mothers — or good boys and bad mothers? In The Black Madonna, Louisa Ermelino shows us three exasperating but lovable Italian mamas, and their equally exasperating but lovable sons. It's a festa worthy of the best held on Spring Street!

Fay Weldon author of Affliction and A Hard Time to Be a Father Wise, witty, warm — all the expected things, but tough too, and literary. Ermelino is a first-division writer — graceful and witty in her use of language, loyal to the truth, passionate and proud. If Scorsese was a woman and a novelist, one would expect no less from him.

Susan Isaacs author of Almost Paradise and Shining Through The Black Madonna is a big-hearted, wise, and wonderfully observed novel about mothers and sons. Louisa Ermelino gives the reader all the life and glorious color of her characters and of New York's Little Italy.

Tom Perrotta author of Joe College and Election Moving gracefully across decades and continents, The Black Madonna recounts marvelous tales of love, friendship, jealousy, and magic. With apparent effortlessness, Louisa Ermelino creates a world full of larger-than-life characters that is at once both ordinary and miraculous.

Louise DeSalvo author of Adultery An endearing portrayal of working-class Italian-American women, their sons, their families, their lives, their loves, and their dreams in New York's Little Italy. Ermelino writes with sensitivity and compassion and a signature earthy charm.

Edwin Torres author of Q&A and Carlito's Way The Black Madonna is an exquisite read. Teresa, Antoinette, and Magdalena, what a trio! These are not ladies who lunch, these are ladies that sit on tenement stoops, but they are just as lethal. The scenes at the Bronx hospital and in Italy are comically priceless. As has been said, Italiani, brava gente, but it is clear from these pages that "la femmina" rule the roost.

Vincent Patrick author of The Pope of Greenwich Village Louisa Ermelino is America's counterpart to Fellini and DeSica. She practices storytelling at its best. Lower Manhattan's Italian-American community has never been portrayed with more humor and love than in The Black Madonna.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684871660
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 3/7/2001
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.82 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Louisa Ermelino is a reporter for InStyle magazine. She's worked at Time and People magazines and for the television show Top Cops. A native of the Italian neighborhood in New York City that borders Greenwich Village, she lives there with her husband, Carlo Cutolo. They have three daughters: Ariane, Ruby, and Lucy.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2003

    BACK TO MY CHILDHOOD................

    FEELS LIKE I AM BACK AT MY GRANDMOTHERS ON THOMPSON STREET. LOUISA SURE KNOWS HER STUFF. GREAT READING ..I BOUGHT A COPY FOR ALL MY FRIENDS WHO WOULD ENJOY IT, UNDERSTAND IT , AND THE THOSE WHO WISH THEY COULD HAVE LIVED IT. GOOD LUCK TO A GREAT WRITER....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2002

    So much fun...

    Louisa really brought the characters to life in her book, The Black Madonna. Growing up in New York I could relate to these characters and could adapt them to the characters in my own life. At times I laughed out loud. Her description of the neighboorhood and the Italian culture is dead on. I read the book in two days and was disapointed when it was over.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2001

    I lived it!

    Maybe I loved it so much because I lived on Spring St. I went to Al & Sam's candy store every night for an eggcream. (Al was actually my Godmother's brother). So many places in the book are for real. I knew these Mothers and their sons, not literally of course, but they all exist in an Italian neighborhood. I couldn't put it down. I kept reading excerpts to my husband. He is from the same neighborhood and also charged his lunch in Virginia's store. I laughed so hard at the meeting between Jumbo and his in-laws. This was all so real to me. Please, Louisa, write another.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2001

    finding my roots

    this is the best book i have read in a long time. It brings back so many memories of growing up in little italy in nyc. I can just picture my mom and her friends conversing in the same mannner as the characters in the story. Once you pick it up it's impossible to put down. I found myself reading it aloud to my husband and family becuase I wanted to share familiar expressions and experiences with them. Read it, you won't be sorry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2001

    Italian Opera

    I bought the book on Wednesday and finished it the next day. I'm of Irish heritage raised in an Italian neighborhood. I knew these women and I knew their sons,too. You,Louisa are a wonderful story teller. Thank you for taking me away from the real world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2001

    On the trail of the Black Madonna

    Ermelino has truly brought to life the real characters of her story. Well written and interesting to the last word, her story has brought back many memories for me. Her description of characters and their devotion to the Black Madonna is so real that I had nearly lost the memories I once shared with family members now gone. Thank you for such a wonderful book that even ones who do not share Italian heritage can enjoy this book and share with ones who have lived some of Ermelino's written word.

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