Tazia and Gemma

Written by Ann S Epstein
Review by Elicia Parkinson

Tazia (Italian for born again) Gatti (Italian for cat) is a seventeen-year-old Italian immigrant in New York City in 1911. She has found herself pregnant, unwed, and working at the Triangle Waist Company, which is soon to be destroyed in a traumatic fire. Tazia survives the fire but leaves NYC to protect her unborn child from its father, who is married to another woman. The story bounces around in space and time, as Tazia moves from city to city to make it impossible for Gemma’s father ever to be able to find them. Tazia’s story through the early 20th-century is interspersed with her daughter Gemma’s story in 1961. Gemma is on a mission to find out the story of her real father, tracing back the few clues Tazia has ever shared with her and conducting a series of interviews with the different people in Tazia’s life. Her own son is about to get married, and her gift to him is to provide to him the name of his grandfather.

While this is an easy and often interesting read, Tazia is at times an insufferable character as she embodies the qualities of other “white saviors” in literature. Everyone that Gemma interviews comments ardently on how non-prejudicial Tazia was, which puts her on too high a pedestal much too long after their encounters with her to be convincing. This doesn’t make it a bad story, though the jumping around in time did get cumbersome after a while, and the interview sessions became tedious. The details about the Triangle Waist Company fire were well-researched and fascinating. I would have liked to have read a book about Tazia in 1911, rather than bouncing around in time since readers know from the beginning who Gemma’s father was. Slightly disappointing.