Publishers Weekly calls Helen Barolini’s now-classic novel of immigration “an ambitious saga which spans the history and probes some of the tensions of the Italian American… Panoramic, descriptive and solidly crafted.” When the book was first published in 1979, the Philadelphia Inquirer called it “an important novel for these times. . . . Through a dazzling interplay of American and Italian characters in both countries, Helen Barolini delineates the major concerns of all thinking American ethnics.” This is no less true today, as this republication restores Umbertina to a reading public newly attuned to the complexities of cultural inheritance and identity.
This multigenerational novel begins in Calabria, as Umbertina persuades her husband to emigrate. Through years of struggle on New York City’s Lower East Side and in a growing upstate New York town, it is Umbertina’s determination, ingenuity, and business sense that propel the family into financial success and security—leaving her daughters and granddaughters to sort out their identities as Italian Americans and as women.