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 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