Thursday, August 1, 2013

Antonio's Wife - Jacqueline DeJohn

A first time novelist pens a story with its roots firmly in the author's past - a story of immigration from Italy to the rough tenements of New York City, a story of arranged marriages, social norms so strict that the sins of the parents are firmly passed on to their innocent children, a story about different kinds of love. This sounds like an opera, yes? Well, there's opera all wrapped up in this complex tale too.

Jacqueline DeJohn has penned an emotional tale based on the mysterious details of her grandmother's passage to America from the hills above Naples. Her main character, Mina/Maria Grazia comes to America as a mail-order bride. Settled in the tenements and new to a marriage that she hoped would bring happiness and escape from her 'past life', Maria becomes a seamstress for an opera company in Manhattan. Her marriage deteriorates around her into a frightening and abusive calamity and she pins her hopes on saving pennies from her pay to escape this second traumatic chapter of her young life. It is at this moment in life when Francesca Frascatti, a renowned Italian diva comes to the opera house to sing Tosca. This flamboyant singer needs a dresser and Mina is given the job. The story line takes a dramatic and operatic turn at this point and never stops careening toward a passionate, murderous, emotional, and yes, operatic, finish.

This novel, while dramatic and over-the-top coincidental, meshes together the characters, details of the history of New York City geography, famous names from the early 1900's, and the general themes of ethnic discrimination, immigration, the development of 'the Black Hand' aka Mafia, issues of women's rights, the history and development of opera as entertainment in America, the politics of Tammany Hall, and the development of crime investigation techniques. It's full to brimming ... like a good opera with an ending that takes a great deal of finagling to reach ... like a good opera.

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