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Old World Daughter, New World Mother: An Education in Love and Freedom Hardcover – April 13, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a memoir that combines the personal and the political, Laurino (Were You Always an Italian?) documents her journey from a childhood spent in the company of a traditional Italian family to becoming a mother herself and the many differences between her mother's life and her own. Laurino's mother, a stay-at-home mom, claimed that she was not like the other mothers—she didn't drive or participate in the school's PTA; she was superstitious and read omens from dreams into daily life, while keeping an overprotective eye on Laurino and her mentally disabled brother. Laurino's father believed in the power of education and supported Laurino through college, where she pursued her burgeoning interest in the feminist movement. She began her career in the early 1980s at the Village Voice and later became New York City Mayor David Dinkins's chief speechwriter. As she married and had a child, her worldview expanded to include that of a working mother, and she struggled to find a comfortable place for myself amid the hum of two dominant, divergent traditions. Laurino deftly tells her story, while succinctly expressing a feminist's perspective on motherhood and explaining how much further we have to go as a country in order to honor every woman's work. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

From Chaucer’s ribald “Wife of Bath” and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own to the portrayal of Tony Soprano’s mother in The Sopranos, academic Laurino looks at women’s roles through history, challenging in the process some feminist orthodoxies about the meaning of independence. She dramatizes the political issues through her personal story, from being raised in a southern Italian immigrant family in New Jersey with a mentally disabled brother through her current effort to balance the childcare of her young son with the demands of her job. Set against the sometimes slow-going discussions of gender sociology is Laurino’s wry, witty commentary about her push to assimilate (“I made the hyphen in Italian-American into an arrow”) and about the pressures of family, food, and fear versus science, freedom, and progress. Along the way, she raises essential identity issues: Is there a healthy side to dependency? Why does this nation of immigrants overglorify rugged individualism and freedom? Does feminism fail mothers and children? Sure to spark discussion. --Hazel Rochman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393057283
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393057287
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #588,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Maria Laurino was born and raised in northern New Jersey. She is a graduate of Georgetown University, where she received a B.A. in English and government, and of New York University, where she received an M.A. in English and American literature. She began her career as a journalist for the Village Voice and later became the chief speechwriter to former New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins. Laurino examined ethnic identity in her first book, Were You Always an Italian?, which was published in 2000 and became a national bestseller. Her second book, Old World Daughter, New World Mother (2009), a meditation on contemporary feminism, describes the pull and tug of growing up in an Old World family that prized dependence even as she later embraced a New World feminism that championed personal autonomy. Laurino's journalism has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times,, and The Nation, and her essays have been widely anthologized, including in The Norton Reader. She teaches creative nonfiction at New York University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
At first I had trouble figuring out what this book was about. The title suggested a memoir about a mother-daughter relationship. The first part of the book describes Laurino' Italian upbringing and her relatives. She's the daughter. The second part of the book shows Laurino as a mom. However, it's not a memoir. Laurino doesn't recount events of her life in linear fashion. She includes opinions and interviews relating to feminism.

The theme of Laurino's book seems to relate to the contradictions of the promise of feminism. For instance, Jeane Kirkpatrick - Laurino's college mentor - becomes a UN Ambassador in the Reagan administration. Though she's the first female to hold an international position in the president's cabinet, Kirkpatrick was not recognized as a feminist.

Laurino defends the speech New York Times writer Joyce Purnick made at the Barnard College commencement. Purnick acknowledged that she could not have achieved her successes if she had a child. According to Laurino, the Barnard women were furious.

Laurino points out that Purnick was telling the truth, but she goes on to blame the United States failure to accommodate female biology. Other countries, she points out, give new mothers considerably more time off.

She describes a particularly horrific experience, involving women doctors and a midwife. When she started crying after being advised to have no more children, the female doctor directs her to, "Emote later."

"Emote later?" Laurino asks. "For this I had chosen a feminist practice and its band of caring midwives?" I don't understand why Laurino didn't write a complaint to the head of her managed care group, the hospital board and, if necessary, the state medical boards.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By rctnyc VINE VOICE on April 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
My background and experience are very similar to Maria Laurino's, in that I am a woman; all four of my grandparents were born in Italy (Sicily and Naples); I grew up in an Italian-American enclave (Brooklyn, not New Jersey); I went on to attend elite schools and became an "American" professional; my husband is not Italian; and, when our son was a little kid attending summer day-camp at a NYC independent school, I made Italian box lunches for him each day. (My husband laughed out loud when I described Laurino's ricotta crackers, well-remembering the roast chicken legs w/olive oil and oregano, with a side of mozzarella.) Also, like Maria's friends, now that my son is a college student living at home and attending a local college (yes, he didn't leave -- not yet), each time he goes out, I say "Have fun!" when I really want to say "Be careful!" ("Why are you always worrying, Mom?") The fruit does not far fall from the Sicilian tree.

Laurino has a larger point, however, and one with which I strongly agree. She sees Italian-American culture as signifying the "caring" point of view that regards inter-dependency and nurturing at the basis of human development. Americans, and particularly our generation of feminists, thought that work should be at the center of women's lives. Laurino's point, learned as she reconciled her American values with the culture of her grandparents, is that autonomy is not the road to fulfillment. The fruit does not fall far from the tree because the tree and fruit are connected. A forward-thinking feminism, Laurino suggests, would find life-style solutions that would permit women (and men) to work while at the same time recognizing that family, and personal connections, are essential for the health of all.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on June 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Old World Daughter, New World Mother" focuses on Maria Laurino's experiences as a both a mother and daughter and the roles in today's society. She chronicles her life and compares what it was life for her mother and the role she played in their Italian family and herself; a working woman. Her amusing writing style and the questions she brings up makes this an interesting book for all those mothers and daughter facing the same dilemmas.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin L. Nenstiel TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Like many women of her generation, Maria Laurino got burned on 1970's feminism after she had her own family and child. So she did what a lot of her contemporaries did: she turned to her heritage and reevaluated what a full, happy life would look like. The result is this book, a manifesto for a new, nurturing feminism that rewards women (and men!) for acknowledging how we are dependent on everyone around us.

Laurino mixes social criticism, activism, wry humor, intellectual insight, and paesano playfulness to create a product unlike anything I've seen in a long time. She starts with a memoir of Italian-American family life. Her ancestors were working people, close to the land and tied to family alliances running generations deep. But American-born Laurino wanted the feminist promise of finding herself outside the home, so she hustled off to college, a journalism career, and a stint as a staffer in municipal New York politics.

Many feminist tracts start with massive declarations about what it is to be a woman, and turn from there to the specific. Most feminists treat the old and the young, the black and the white, the American and the international as identical women everywhere. Not so Laurino. She starts with a specific woman, herself, and uses her own hard-won experience to say what it is like to be a specific kind of woman.

Due to that outlook, and reliance on her Italian heritage, Laurino creates a feminism that accepts domesticity and nurturance. Her feminism lets women be individuals, because she doesn't tell women what they need, allowing them to make that choice themselves. Her feminism is humane and supportive, recognizing that women deserve fulfillment, which she concedes may come from adopting certain traditional feminine roles.
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