Birds of Passage by Joe Giordano
What turns the gentle mean and the mean brutal? The thirst for wealth? The demand for respect? Vying for a woman? Birds of Passage recalls the Italian immigration experience at the turn of the twentieth-century when New York’s streets were paved with violence and disappointment.
Leonardo Robustelli leaves Naples in 1905 to seek his fortune. Carlo Mazzi committed murder and escaped. Azzura Medina is an American of Italian parents. She’s ambitious but strictly controlled by her mother. Leonardo and Carlo vie for her affection.
Azzura, Leonardo, and Carlo confront con men, Tammany Hall politicians, the longshoreman’s union, Camorra clans, Black Hand extortion, and the Tombs prison.
As a third generation Canadian Italian, I never had to go racism or cultural hate. I have never been assumed to be a certain way because of my heritage. When I pick up and read a novel like Birds of Passage, I can then relate to what my ancestors did when they sailed across the ocean for a better life for family. They wanted and needed hope. What did they find when they landed? Mistrust, corruption and misunderstandings.
Birds of Passage is an incredible story of immigrating to the US from Italy during a particularly rough time in New York history. The book is honest, well written and you can feel the pain and struggle these immigrants went through. The lack of jobs, of respect and just trying to make it in a culture so different from their own. The blending of cultures is a constant struggle as individuals try to escape their past only to have it resurface in the ‘new world’. A lot of this can still be seen today as immigrants leave their country for a new life.
I loved how Joe includes the corruption of certain politicians, Mafia and family members to illustrate exactly how people lived during these times. This novel is a story that you will not want to put down because of all the raw emotions, corruption and pain. It was definitely well-loved in my home!
You can purchase a copy of the book on Amazon.
About the Author
Joe Giordano was born in Brooklyn. His father and grandparents immigrated to New York from Naples. Joe and his wife, Jane have lived in Greece, Brazil, Belgium and the Netherlands. They now live in Texas with their shih tzu Sophia. Joe’s stories have appeared in more than sixty magazines including Bartleby Snopes, The Newfound Journal, and The Summerset Review.
Q&A with Joe Giordano
Q: When you were writing the book, did you have a possible film version in mind? If so, did you write in a way that lends itself to film adaptation? For example, lots of dialogue and present day action, not so much description and back story.
A: I’m sure every writer hopes their book will be adapted for the screen. My goal in writing Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, was to create vibrant characters and put them into challenging situations. That’s the touchstone of any good movie. I often visualize my scenes and rehearse the dialogue, a sort of mental storyboard, to insure believability of my writing.
Q: What do you think of the way Italian Americans have been portrayed in Hollywood films over the years?
A: Early Italian immigrants faced prejudice. For example, Jacob Riis in How the Other Half Lives, an 1890 exposé on the deplorable conditions of tenement life, labeled Italians as the lowest of the new immigrants and “dirtier than the Negro.” Italian immigrant labors were given the worst jobs, and although they were instrumental in building New York’s subways and skyscrapers, were often used like human steam shovels. In Birds of Passage, I use small asides by Americans to recall these biases against Italian immigrants.
Early Hollywood films portrayed Italians as swarthy gangsters, cheap peddlers, or in a ridiculous comic role. A number of Italian-American organizations pushed back. Ironically, the turning point may have been “The Godfather.” Here, the gangsters were portrayed as wise, clever, resourceful, loyal, and largely in control of their destinies. More recently in, “The Sopranos,” Tony suffers a dysfunctional family, struggles to maintain his position as capo of a gang against internal and external rivals, and seeks psychological counselling. Notwithstanding that he occasionally kills someone, he lives a life of quiet desperation, like the rest of us. In Birds of Passage, my protagonist, Leonardo Robustelli, starts out as a somewhat naïve young man, quick to anger, and then learns that to avoid being buffeted in the world and take control of his own destiny, he must take certain decisions. Of course, there are consequences, but you’ll need to read the book to find out more.
Q: Italy, of course has a vibrant and very important film industry. Have Italian filmmakers paid much attention to Italian Americans? This may be a tough one to answer.
A: I can’t recall Italian filmmakers portraying many Italian Americans. In fact, I suspect that most Italians consider Italian Americans just Americans. Our cultures are quite distinct. I’m old enough to have known people born in the nineteenth-century. One of the reasons I wrote Birds of Passage was to recall how early Italian immigrants thought and acted, which is quite distinct from many Americans of Italian heritage today.