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Stained Glass Windows: The Life and Death of Jimmy Zappalorti: The hate crime that shocked a city and changed the law Paperback – September 14, 2014
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Reviewed by Dr. George Diestel*
One might ask, "Why this title?" The reader discovers that Jimmy Zappalorti's family, discussed in this biography, was famous for making stained glass windows for the churches, synagogues, restaurants, and private homes in New York and throughout eastern United States. The multiple significance of the artistry involved in making stained glass windows saturates several chapters of this work as a mega-metaphor--making beautiful windows was the glue that held the family together in best and worst of times.
This remarkable story, based on the impeccable research and notes of the author, is interesting from many points of view: the nature of hatred and the expressions of forgiveness; the devotion of family members to each other and the real struggles involved in solidarity; the dedication of police officers, and their softer professional services; the horrors of the Vietnam War, and emergence from its trauma.
Imbedded in the story is the history of the passage of the New York State "Hate Crimes" law (Oct. 2000), which is a positive outcome of an explicit hate crime perpetrated in Staten Island, New York. Here is a fast re-telling of a family's love for their son/brother, and the unqualified tolerance and loving acceptance by his family of his choices, naivety, vulnerabilities and courage.
The gravemen of the story is the murder of the author's brother by two homophobes in 1990, and its trauma to Jimmy's family and friends and citizens of New York. Even the most odious of crimes is handled with taste and descriptive accuracy; the whole story is couched in direct quotations of conversations from the author's sensitive memory and notes. Ninety percent of the story is about family love, caring, respect, indulgence, and forgiveness; ten percent is about the merciless slaughter of an innocent man, son, brother, musician, traveler, stained glass artisan, and lover of all.
The funeral Mass of Jimmy Zappalorti, was presided over by Cardinal John O'Connor (Admiral, US Navy retired), while surrounded by the beautiful stained glass church windows created by the Zappalorti men. After the Mass, the author was asked by his mom if he had read a letter from his murdered brother the night before, one written from Rome, expressing Jimmy's love for his parents. Mary Zappalorti asks her middle son (the author), if the letter had inspired him to tell Jimmy's story (page 248). The author, nodded yes!
Now, we all can be inspired to avoid hate, in all its manifestations, by the beautiful fulfillment of that nod, with the publishing of Stained Glass Windows.
Dr. George Diestel is Professor Emeritus, California State University, Fresno.
While Bob doesn't hold back when recounting Jimmy's often troubled life, his profound love for his younger brother is palpable. In fact, it becomes readily apparent that this book's recurrent theme is love of family, on all levels. I quickly developed a great admiration for the Zappalortis, especially for the family matriarch, Mary, whose steadfast faith serves as a source of inspiration for her family and helps them get through their terrible ordeal. For me, the passages detailing the tender loving relationship between Jimmy and his mother Mary were especially poignant.
It's unfortunate that this book had to be written, but necessary that Bob—with inspiration from his mother--tell his brother's story. I'm highly impressed by his endeavors on behalf of his late brother to ensure that his memory will forever remain alive. On a larger scale, Jimmy's death had city-, state- and nation-wide implications as it led to the passage of New York State's hate-crime legislation and in the formation of the the Zappalorti Society, a non-profit, active support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people who suffer from stress and mental illness. Actions such as these are proof that Jimmy, indeed, did not die in vain.
This is truly one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. I could not recommend it more highly!