However, these modest successes are rewarded with the attention of the notorious Black Hand, a gang of brutal extortionists led by Lupo the Wolf. As the stakes grow higher and higher, readers share with Giovanna her desperate struggle to remain outside the fray, and then to fight for--and finally to save--that which is important above all else: family.
Amazon Exclusive: Maria Laurino Reviews Elizabeth Street
Maria Laurino is the author of the memoirs Old World Daughter, New World Mother, a meditation on contemporary feminism, and the national bestseller, Were You Always an Italian?, an exploration of ethnic identity. Laurino's journalism has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times and The Nation, and her essays have been widely anthologized. Read her exclusive guest review of Elizabeth Street:
When readers first meet Giovanna Costa, the protagonist of Elizabeth Street, she is a young woman about to get married in the small Italian fishing village of Scilla, situated between the Calabrian coast and Sicily’s Aeolian Islands. The town is home to the ancient story of Scylla, the once beautiful nymph turned mythical monster that devoured sailors trying to navigate the Straits of Messina. Midway through Laurie Fabiano’s page-turning novel, which is based on her own family history, Giovanna has landed in the New World but finds herself lodged between Scylla and Charybdis. She arrives grief stricken in New York after her beloved husband, Nunzio, has been killed on a badly managed construction site in Brooklyn. Eventually she will settle into an arranged second marriage, but her troubles continue to multiply. Giovanna will be forced to combat the nefarious forces of the Black Hand, the precursor to the Italian-American Mafia, which has threatened to tear apart her new family.
Supporting herself in New York first as a midwife, Giovanna teams up with a woman doctor from northern Italy. The two become close friends and the doctor shares medical knowledge that Giovanna will combine with her holistic midwifery skills. But Giovanna’s fate changes after deciding to open a small fruit and vegetable market with her new husband. The store is an easy source of potential revenue for criminals offering "protection services," and soon Giovanna’s family becomes their prey. With the same mix of disciplined study and the pinch of southern Italian mysticism that she applied to midwifery, Giovanna will take on the ruthless organized crime syndicate that has kidnapped her daughter and murdered the police lieutenant assigned to protect the neighborhood.
Mario Puzo once claimed, years after writing The Godfather, that he had based the infamous character of Don Corleone on his mother. Fabiano has created in Elizabeth Street a southern Italian heroine fighting those criminal forces that have long victimized poor and vulnerable immigrants. In this multigenerational, well-researched tale, the reader also learns interesting details of the common struggles facing southern Europeans coming to America--how, for instance, Ellis Island inspectors were instructed to mark northern and southern Italians as two separate races; and how the wages for common laborers in parts of the country were divided into three categories, the highest salary paid to "whites," the middle scale for "coloreds," and the lowest amount to "Italians."
Elizabeth Street is both a fascinating immigrant story and an intimate portrait of how a first-generation American--and the author’s own great-grandmother--outwits one of the most brutal crime organizations of the early 20th century. --Maria Laurino