The Vineyard Gazette – Martha’s Vineyard News

The Italian Prisoner by Elisa M. Speranza, Burgundy Bend, 2022, 295 pages, $15.99.

At the start of Elisa Speranza’s fictional debut The Italian Prisoner, young Rose Marino is about to perform a daring social act, but that’s not the book’s main focus, not the daring social act that will change her life. during the book. On the contrary, she is looking for a job.

The author is a summer resident of Oak Bluffs and in the winter lives in New Orleans where the book is set. The year is 1943. America is fully engaged in World War II – so much so that many cities and neighborhoods are experiencing drastic labor shortages. Rose gave this a lot of thought, and she decided she wanted to at least try to do her bit for the war effort by traveling around town and applying for a job at the Higgins Shipyard.

Knowing how they’re likely to react to a young single woman getting a job in the world, Rose tells her Sicilian immigrant parents that she’s going to donate blood. But it’s not a secret she can keep for long, especially when her application is accepted and she is offered a job. His parents are reluctant to the idea but end up agreeing.

“Always be proud of your Sicilian blood,” her father told her. “We didn’t do anything wrong, but now we have to be Americans first.”

Rose takes the job, and she soon realizes what a lot of women have achieved when they entered the workforce to fill the jobs that their brothers and cousins ​​and husbands and sons had left vacant. : not only does she like independence, but she is quickly very gifted for it. work. With her parents’ approval and her immediate boss realizing what a gem she is at work, Rose’s next few years seem to be on an exciting new plane.

He is suddenly knocked down – by love, of course. Through a function organized by her church, Rose and her best friend meet some of the 51,000 Italian prisoners of war held in the United States from 1943 to 1945, 1,000 of whom were housed at Jackson Barracks in New Orleans. These Italian prisoners of war are courteous and well-mannered (most of them did not believe strongly in Mussolini’s regime to begin with), and Rose’s attention is immediately drawn to a handsome young man named Salvatore Dilisio, who is also attracted to her.

This introduces the narrative thread that will dominate most of the book, and Ms. Speranza does a conscious and sensitive job of unraveling the story of Rose and Sal falling in love despite all the obstacles between them (even linguistic ones, as at the start, her L’ English is as jerky as his Italian). From the start, the budding relationship is charged with a refreshing carnal element, which of course complicates everything for Rose.

“As she withdrew, her arm brushed his and her skin tingled,” says one such passage. “Instantly, she was ashamed. They were POWs, not American soldiers at a ball.

As the two lovers grow closer and share their experiences, the months pass, and the news of the war ripples through the radio and newspapers, the novel captures the heady disorientation of serious first love. . “There would never be ‘normal’ again,” Rose thinks at one point. “She knew it.”

The Italian Prisoner does a smooth, confident job of drawing readers into the world of wartime New Orleans. The dynamic of foreign POWs spending years in American cities and towns will be unfamiliar to many readers, and that dynamic is well drawn in these pages. The novel belongs entirely to Rose, but nonetheless, the large cast of secondary characters is well fleshed out and often represents different life paths or choices than those Rose herself makes.

Ms. Speranza saves the most surprising and thought-provoking decisions for the very end of the novel, and it risks dividing readers as all difficult writing does. There are predictable elements throughout the book – predictability is ingrained in love stories, after all – but just when readers begin to feel sufficient comfort in how things will turn out, Rose gives them another surprise. Half of Mr. Speranza’s readers will applaud, but all of those readers will finish the book eager to see what this author writes next.

Elisa Speranza will host a book signing for The Italian Prisoner on Sunday from 3-5 p.m. at Edgartown Books, 44 Main street.

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