Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Islands of Divine Music by John Addiego

Family Saga and the Immigrant Experience

Rosari had a difficult start in life. Born in southern Italy, her mother, Eleonora ran off with another man and her father, Lazaro was left to raise her. This was back in the early part of the 20th century, when men didn’t take part in child rearing let alone do it solo.

Rosari learned how to read and write at an early age, while the majority of the town folk didn’t know how at all. One day two men asked her to write a letter. They dictated and she wrote it, not understanding most of what she was writing but very happy that she earned some money. It turned out to be the thing that changed the family forever. When she confessed to her father what she did and what the content of the letter was, he was fearful. So much so that he book passage for the two of them on a ship to America. Right before they left, Eleonora reappeared and she went with them.

They landed in New York and soon Eleonora ran off again, only to show up dead a few months later. That is when Rosari and Lazaro ended up going to settle in San Francisco. That is where Rosari was reacquainted with one of the men that got her into trouble in the old country, Giuseppe. The man that she marries and bears seven children with. He also has an affair with a prostitute and got her pregnant with his eighth child, Jesús.

This is the point where Addiego lost me a bit. He goes on having each of the different characters in the family being the focus of each chapter in turn. These proceeding chapters made the book read much more like a series of short stories than a novel. At times I had to look back at the family tree to figure out who was who.

The Islands of Divine Music is a family saga that spans over 80 years, going through the generations. I really liked how Addiego took us through major parts of history like the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War. I especially liked the story with Paulie, one of Rosari’s children. The story reenacted the famous Giants and Dodgers baseball playoff games.

If this book were to be marketed as a book of short stories that were loosely linked, I would have approached it that way and I think I would have enjoyed it more. As with most books of short stories, I enjoyed some of the stories more than others. The book didn’t work for me as a novel.

That said, Addiego’s prose was enchanting and shows great promise. Some authors have the rare gift of being able to write short stories well. This is how I see Addiego really shine. However, if he really wants to write a complete novel, that reads as a novel, I would recommend he change his approach some how. He has a way with words and I think he can do it.

I look forward to seeing John Addiego’s future endeavours as a writer.


Thanks to Caitlin Hamilton Summie of Unbridled Books for a copy of this book. She has also donated a copy of this book for me to giveaway. If you would like to try to win it, please go here. Hurry, the giveaway ends this Friday, December 19th.

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