When the World Was Youngby Tony Romano
In Chicago, in the summer of 1957, Italian immigrants Angela Rosa and Agostino Peccatori are caught between worlds, as they cling to old-country ways in an era of upending change. Angela Rosa must cope with the building tension—exacerbated by Agostino's wandering eye—of raising five U.S.-born children who are struggling to define themselves within a
In Chicago, in the summer of 1957, Italian immigrants Angela Rosa and Agostino Peccatori are caught between worlds, as they cling to old-country ways in an era of upending change. Angela Rosa must cope with the building tension—exacerbated by Agostino's wandering eye—of raising five U.S.-born children who are struggling to define themselves within a family rooted in old-world tradition. But the events of a single tragic evening are about to bring all of their lives to a sudden, irreversible standstill—as a once resilient family begins to unravel under a crushing burden of guilt. A poignant testament to the power of sacrifice, loyalty, and unconditional love, When the World Was Young is a stunning tale of one family's will to survive.
Sin, redemption, shame and grace are served up in Romano's uneven debut novel, set in Chicago's Italian neighborhoods in the late 1950s. Agostino and Angela Rosa Peccatori are recent immigrants, raising five children while running a tavern with Agostino's brother, Vince. But the Peccatoris' arranged marriage lacks communication and passion, and Angela silently endures her husband's infidelities. The couple's oldest son, Santo, grows increasingly aware of his father's indiscretions while his only sister, Victoria, flirts with truancy and with the neighborhood bad boy. The family's individual trajectories are thrown off course by a death in the family, which has ramifications that will shape the family for years afterward. But the back half of the book, with its secrets revealed and lives altered, packs fewer surprises than probably intended, and Romano's reflections on death and grief bring little new to the table. However, Romano finds a rich vein of material in a place and time buffeted by changing mores, insularity and tenuous ties to the old country. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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When the World Was Young
At the first glimpse of her stepping off the westbound Grand Avenue trolley, Santo Peccatori clutched his shirtfront in longing. He looked on from the silver-tinted storefront panes of Mio Fratello, where he worked for his father and uncle on weekends wiping tables and washing cocktail glasses, duties his younger brothers, Anthony and Alfredo, would soon take on now that school was out, while Santo, having just graduated high school, would busy himself stocking liquor and wine, pouring the occasional drink when his father was out and the men couldn't wait for Uncle Vince to wrest himself from a table of patrons, and positioning himself in this very spot so he could spy Sylvia Gomez descending a trolley at 4:05 P.M. after an eight-hour shift at Illinois Bell.
She had on a sleeveless, floral-print dress splashed in marigolds that reminded him of the dresses his mother wore when he was a boy. She waited while the bus, a pale green-and-cream metal grasshopper, pulled along by hundreds of crackling volts of live cable overhead, swept past her and blotted her from view for several seconds. The trolley poles clanked along the wire, zapped twice, and the bus disappeared. As she waited for traffic to recede so she could cross Grand and circle behind Mio Fratello to get to her apartment, she stretched and turned as if she'd just been awakened from a long slumber. Santo gazed at her bare legs. She wore her black slip-ons, the ones with the small heel that made the slide of her leg tilt ever so slightly. On her right calf, the result of sitting too long in one position, was a blushed circle, the sizeof a peach, the size of Santo's palm.
Santo's father, Agostino, unloading bottles of Gallo wine from crates behind the bar, glanced also at the bus stop where Sylvia Gomez now tucked her grand rivulets of thick dark hair behind her shoulder and pulled on the strap of her purse, ready to cross. Agostino set down a mug-handled gallon and strolled outside to the back of the tenement. The ground floor of the flat was a combination liquor storebar—some called it a club—where the same twenty or thirty men shelled out sweaty dollars for shots of liqueur or schnapps and then retreated to the back lot on hot summer nights such as this to wager on bocce. Agostino picked up the wide rake and worked at leveling the fine stones in the bocce alley, one of the varied tasks he left undone each afternoon until this time so he could step outside with a degree of nonchalance and appear busy. He and his brother, Vincenzo, who lived in the apartment above the bar, had framed the stones with two-by-tens and lag bolts seven summers ago. Each year they added a fresh coat of pine-green paint to the boards and darkened the red foul lines, so that except for a few dents from errant tosses, the lane looked untrodden.
He whistled a slow aria, each note precise and assured, until he spotted Sylvia Gomez out the corner of his eye.
"Signora," he called, leaning an elbow on his rake, wiping the back of his hand across his forehead, as if he'd been at the stones for hours. He had to work at keeping his left eye still—his father used to call him sinistra—and that combination of the wandering eye and the subtle tightening needed to steady it made him seem vaguely pensive. Though average in height, Agostino still appeared lanky, his khaki trousers hanging modishly, supported by a thin brown belt. His dark mustache, peppered gray, bristled with perspiration.
"Señor," she said, and nodded.
"Another hot day, no?"
He marveled at the sound of the words in his head before he spoke, pure Midwestern, and what happened to those sounds once they were pushed into the air, revealing the sharp accent he worked to soften, even after twenty-two years in America.
She slowed her steps and finally stopped. "Not as hot as yesterday."
Their eyes remained fixed on each other. She slung her purse onto her other shoulder and Agostino scratched at his chin. They broke their gaze and one after the other glanced at the adjacent brown brick flat. Tucked away along the side of the building where the sun blasted each morning was a patch of dirt that served as a vegetable garden: tomatoes and cucumbers and sprigs of parsley.
Inside, Santo peered out and calculated that Sylvia Gomez, who at twenty-seven or twenty-eight, was no closer to his father's age than his own. Santo, eighteen in a month, sourly concluded that Sylvia Gomez anticipated these meetings as much as his father.
Agostino waved her toward a table. "Come. Sit. A glass of vino."
"I need to start dinner," she said.
"A small glass." He moved to one of the white, wrought-iron tables and pulled out a chair. "Please. Sit. In the shade here it's cool."
Santo knew his father would not bellow out his drink order to him, not with Mrs. Gomez. He was tempted to bring out drinks anyway and remind him that Mama wanted him home for dinner tonight. Mama, who would be cooking all day because her sister, Zia Lupa, would be back from her travels. Except for Uncle Vince, who would need to mind the store, the whole family would be there, together for once. Zia Lupa at the head, Agostino across from her. Mama next to Zia, though Mama would barely sit. Anthony and Alfredo on one side, sharing their private adolescent jokes, Santo and his sister, Victoria, a year younger, on the other, who would pout all night about being treated like the youngest, though she was sixteen. She wasn't allowed anywhere near Mio Fratello. And baby Benito, of course, squeezed in near Victoria, who would watch over him.When the World Was Young. Copyright © by Tony Romano. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Tony Romano is the author of When the World Was Young and a two-time winner of a PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award. His work has been produced on National Public Radio's Sound of Writing series and syndicated to newspapers nationwide.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Beautifully written. Gives you that neighborhood feeling. He describes growing up in a family where you feels everyone else has a better life. The secrets of a family are often felt to be so lonely. It takes you inside of a home where secrets are numerous. You can relate to the family drama, no matter what the decade. The characters are well developed who become part of your family.
One word, boring.
I just finished this book and it is a beautifully written story of the 1950's and an unusual portrayal of Italian-American families. Not a meatball in sight but a realistic story about families and all their sins and redemption, secrets and evasions, love and loathing, success and failure. I congratulate the author on a fine book and look forward to many more.