“There’s no sense crying over misfortune. Who’s to say it’s not a fortune instead? And there’s no point in rejoicing over happiness: who’s to say it’s not a misfortune? Destiny is what hasn’t happened to you yet.” This quote depicts the tone of this deeply painful yet also joyful immigrant story. Diamante and Vita, the central characters, suffer horrific experiences that seem almost surreal. Their imaginative visions and positive dreams are amazingly depicted by this highly literate writer.
Beginning with their difficult arrival at Ellis Island, Diamante and Vita suffer the abuses of the early twentieth century child worker as well physical and verbal violence from their guardian. Diamante quickly surmounts his financially hopeless newspaper sale job by robbing a grave for a hoodlum. Thus he earns the right to work for an undertaker. Vita discovers the power of words and begins to learn English but is forced to quit school. In her uniquely atypical situation, her landlord/guardian equates her growing sexual interest in Diamante with evil American ways. Both dream of escape.
On and on flow scenes involving actual historical situations: the little-known anger of American Negroes at Italians after Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, the brutality of reform schools and coal mines to which immigrants were often sent. Woven into the story are news reports of Italian-Americans’ living conditions and the account of a descendant searching for the true story of this family during WWII. Every character represents the strengths and weaknesses of immigrants who initially received a most unwelcome reception on American shores.