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Wrestling with the Devil Hardcover – April 15, 2012
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"Wrestling with the Devil is an entrancing tale of perseverance, hard work and the pursuit of the American Dream. My reverie was broken only by surges of inspiration to make the best out of my life.'' --Jason Quick, The Oregonian
"This work is an important contribution to the world of wrestling and a must-read for enthusiasts of the sport." --Curley Culp, Professional Football Player, NCAA Wrestling Champion, 1967 Arizona State University
"This wonderful book captures the whole of the immigrant experience in America, the bravado, the ingenuity, the struggle for survival, and most of all, the grace and strength of the Italian-American family. Oral history at its most thrilling." --Merridawn Duckler, Senior Fellow, The Attic Institute Portland, Oregon
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Top Customer Reviews
When Tony arrived in New York, he was penniless, spoke no English and was sick from the voyage on the ship. What's more, his New York relatives couldn't support him, although they tried. They put Tony on a plane to Portland, where some other relatives took him in and became a stable family for him. Four years later, his birth family immigrated to Portland too.
Immigrating to the States was easy neither for Tony nor for the rest of his birth family. Yet, Tony's parents, Tony and his brother shared a strong work ethic that enabled them to make a life. His parents found blue-collar jobs that they held for decades, and although Tony struggled with school, he made it--just barely--through high school and college because he loved and was gifted at wrestling, worked himself to the bone, and had coaches and a family who believed in and encouraged him. Tony ultimately earned a masters and became a beloved high school wrestling coach himself.
I have read many, many memoirs, and I'm not particularly a fan of those written by famous people. I enjoy those by unknown people who, in the course of their lives, accomplish extraordinary things that few people recognize as such. This is one such memoir. Yes, Tony did win wrestling prizes and become a member of the wrestling hall of fame, but his story is not a story of celebrity. It's about risk, hard work, hope, love, and gratitude, intermingled with lots of screwing up. In my view, Tony's really great achievement was inspiring his students the way his coaches inspired him and inspiring his daughter as his parents inspired him. Although the story is narrated in the first person in Tony's voice, the book was written by his daughter Tonya--herself a teacher--and is the result of several years of interviews and work. The result is a beautiful book.
Although this is a book about an Italian American family with a penchant for wrestling, it's not a book just for Italian Americans or for wrestlers. It's a timeless American immigration story that will inspire not only people whose families have been in the US for generations but also America's most recent immigrants, no matter their origin.
My heart broke as 10-year old Antonio was sent to America, alone. The desire for her child to have a chance at a better, more prosperous life was so powerful that it overcame his mother's need to keep a young son close at home. Such a sacrifice of hope - and with a happy ending.
I had no interest in the sport of wrestling when I started the book, but I found myself caught up in the matches - I felt the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Russo has written a book that satisfies my interest in all-things-Italian, while also touching the emotions that motherhood has unleashed in me, and perhaps even igniting a tiny spark of interest in wrestling.
Read Wrestling with the Devil and find yourself in the lush backyard vegetable garden in Portland, Oregon - or drinking the Russo family wine around the dining table - you'll feel the anguish of a mother saying good-bye to her young son, and the fear of the little boy alone and sick on a ship to a new land. You'll get beat up along with Tony on the wrestling mat, and then feel the pride of winning. And you will feel the love of generations of the Russo family and the bonds that distance would not break.