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The Black Madonna: Una Storia di Famiglia

The Black Madonna: Una Storia di Famiglia

5.0 1
by Louisa Ermelino

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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


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.

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.

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Simon & Schuster
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Meet the Author

Louisa Ermelino is the Reviews Director at Publishers Weekly and author of the novels Joey Dee Gets Wise, The Black Madonna, and The Sisters Mallone. She lives in New York City with her husband, Carlo Cutolo, and daughters Ruby, Lucy and Ariane.

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The Black Madonna 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.