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Christ in Concrete Paperback – September 7, 2004
Intrusion: A Novel
A loving couple, grieving the loss of their son, finds their marriage in free fall when a beautiful, long-lost acquaintance inserts herself into their lives. Learn More
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"Christ" tells the story of an urban, working-class Italian-American family in the early part of the 20th century. Much of the book is focused on Paul, a young man who finds work as a bricklayer.
di Donato writes with a vivid style; he attains a muscular poetry of blood and concrete as he describes the workers' "symphony of struggle." He brings to life both the specifics of Italian-American life as well as the larger multicultural world in which Paul's family lives. The book deals with Italian-American folk beliefs, tenement living, bilingualism, and a young man's sexual awakening. di Donato also writes on the theme of the common person's struggle against uncaring officialdom. He also explores the question of faith in the face of suffering.
There are many vivid scenes and characters in this novel. One account of an Italian-American feast is particularly memorable. There are also some really graphic, horrifying descriptions of workplace death and injury. I believe that this powerful novel belongs on the shelf with all those great books that sympathetically look at the oppressed and the overworked in the United States. And for another author who has written eloquently on the Italian-American experience, I recommend the fiction of John Fante.
This is one of the strangest, most original books I have ever read, a lost classic of American modernism. I cannot think of an author to compare Di Donato to- the mundane and fobidding ironies of Celine come to mind, but so do the mythic qualities of Brecht. It is sort of a reverse image of The Fountainhead- here are brilliant and passionate people literally being crushed by architechture.
Di Donato's style is loud, blunt and operatic. He rushes through cinematic images and superdramatic tragedies, almost as though he fears he is going to bore you. The events are fairly autobiographical. It's rather like meeting a charming but slightly frightening stranger who tells you thier life story: you are entranced and sympatheic, but fully unnerved.
Like the laborers it depicts, "Concrete" lurches towards moments of joy without ever breaking through the unrelenting misery that is very much author Pietro di Donato's message.
This is working class literature of the 1930s where the great unwashed are brought into finer relief, their desperate situations the fodder for heart-wrenching plot.
In vogue during its Depression heyday, this kind of literature, even done as well as it is here, faced structural barriers to mass acceptance later. The disadvantaged are always the disadvantaged and their most uplifting stories still register as grim.
In "Concrete," the tenement dwellers of New York's lower East Side are not necessarily unhappy. Di Donato portrays them as stout of heart, quick to aid their fellows, and adept at grabbing a rare laugh when presented with the chance.
But they are maimed or ground to dust and the novel's pessimistic conclusion is that the game is rigged against them poor WOPS. And it is. They are "Christ in Concrete," dependent on work that literally kills them.
There is not a lot of workerist rhetoric to this book. It is less Marx, more Biblical justice and Christian plea. Merely an adept portrayal of the construction worker's life in the great Gotham of skyscrapers and cold bitter bluster.
Stories of work itself.
Di Donato, a bricklayer by trade, mined prosaic music from the mundane task:
"He reached the trowel down into the mortar. Slice down toward him, edgewise twist in quick short circle and scoop up away from him. The trowel came up half-covered with mortar - but how heavy!Read more ›
One note -- wait to read Fred Gardaphe's introduction until after you read the novel as he gives away a lot of the story.
It is perhaps the most overlooked American classic.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As a 3rd generation Italian American I can appreciate this book very much. It is wonderful to see in written form the life they led, what they went through, assimilation, toil,... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Donata
unforgettable. brilliant. Each character lives 100 %. Beautifully written.Published 10 months ago by Elissa Dellapiana
This is one of the first well known books on the early Italian American experience. Unfortunately, it is an accurate representation of the
Italian American experience. Read more
Sad and moving book, exquisitely written. This book made a huge impact on me 50 years ago and I wanted to reread it.Published 17 months ago by Judith S. Rycroft