The slums of early 20th century Naples are threatened by violence and disease. Thirteen-year-old scugnizzo- street urchin-Giovanni survives by his wits and by alliances with the few he can trust. He and beautiful Filomena eventually fly off to Brooklyn, founding their own business and setting up their American home. Their Brooklyn family sends offshoots to LA, Las Vegas and the Ivy League. Family members serve America in both World Wars and in Korea. As Giovanni integrates into American life, he maintains his good humor and finds family among Americans of all origins. But creeping racist attitudes threaten that broader family. Giovanni's scugnizzo experiences sharpen his own eye for underhanded and illegal activities by American authorities. Some of them question Giovanni's loyalty and whether he fully washed himself free of the filth of Naples' harbor.