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The Grand Gennaro

Garibaldi M. Lapolla
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The Grand Gennaro
    Book Description:

    An illiterate Calabrian in southern Italy owes money to his church and mayor. He skips town for the bustling streets of New York. Meeting an old friend, a fellow immigrant, he thanks him for help getting settled, and then steals his money. With a new parcel of wealth, he materializes from a small-time laborer into a big-time entrepreneur, soon becoming the tyrant of the local Italian American community. By pluck, luck, and unscrupulous business practices, this cunning character "makes America." There are riches, pleasure, and the beautiful Carmela. Then trouble. Comeuppance. Ambush. Revenge.Twenty-first century popular culture? Not at all.

    The Grand Gennaro, a riveting saga set at the turn of the last century in Italian American Harlem, reflects on how youthful acts of cruelty and desperation follow many to the grave. A classic in the truest sense, this operatic narrative is alive once again, addressing the question: How does one become an "American"?

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4847-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XIV)
    (pp. XV-XXXVI)

    When Thomas J. Ferraro declared Italian American writing “one of the better kept literary secrets of [the twentieth] century,” he had in mind Garibaldi M. Lapolla, among other authors.¹ In their detailed and sensitive treatment of everyday life in turn-of-the-century Italian Harlem, Lapolla’s three published novels—The Fire in the Flesh(1931), MissRollins in Love(1932), andThe Grand Gennaro(1935)—form a cornerstone of early Italian American fiction for readers familiar with the works of Silvio Villa, Giuseppe Cautela, Louis Forgione, Frances Winwar, John Fante, Mari Tomasi, Pietro di Donato, Guido d’Agostino, and Jerre Mangione. However, Garibaldi M....

  6. The Grand Gennaro

    • PART ONE Gennaro

        (pp. 7-30)

        The singularly narrow house, three stories high, in which the destinies of the Accuci, the Dauri, and the Monterano families became hopelessly entangled, still throws its late afternoon shadow into the East River. The red bricks are dirtier, the fire-escapes rustier, the narrow stoop is worn down, the narrow glass-plots are bare. It wears the bitter, humorous air of an old relation, once rich, now fallen in with the indigent members of the family assembled at a reunion in which beer and pretzels have taken the place of champagne and fancy sandwiches. All about it dingy tenement houses, tumble-down frame...

        (pp. 31-43)

        Bartolomeo Todaro, a northern Italian,¹ shorter than the average of those Germanic-looking men, had an oblong head with a stocky neck to hold it up, and a face prematurely cut by deep wrinkles that ran longitudinally across his cheeks. Sparse sandy hair, which he rarely combed, clung about his head as if he still retained the fluffy gossamer of his baby days. That and the small blue eyes in deep sockets gave him, by contrast with his old-looking cheeks, the incongruous expression of having remained a boy despite the fact that he had grown to be a full-bodied man. One...

        (pp. 44-69)

        Isaac Levin’s daughter took Nuora’s place.

        During the three years Gennaro had been amassing money and property, he continued attending church on Sunday mornings and participating in the processions in honor of the saints. He became president of the society of Saint Elena,¹ formed, as the gaudy pink banner of heavy fringed silk proclaimed to the world, for the purpose of mutual protection against disease and mishaps. Some days after Nuora’s departure he marched at the head of a noisy and flamboyant parade.

        The feast of Saint Elena had already achieved the distinction of outvying that of the Madonna of...

        (pp. 70-84)

        One night soon after, Giovanni escorted Gennaro to a music hall. It overlooked the Harlem River. It was an enormous, barn-like structure. The lighted windows rose like walls of garish tinsel above the elevated railway terminals that it paralleled. The gas-jets flared and blew to one side and the other, and so with each wind the whole exposed surface of the building seemed to pulse with alternate dark and glow.

        Inside, the floor was strewn with sawdust where the tables were set under a balcony that ran the length of the hall on both sides. A stage at the front,...

        (pp. 85-98)

        Gennaro had not allowed himself to think what his wife would look like nor what her reactions would be to him and to her new surroundings. No sooner did images of her shape themselves in his memory than he made some movement of the hand, some change of position, because in that way he found he could drive them out of mind. They disturbed him. They did more than disturb him. They angered him. She seemed the living proof of another life from which he had fled. He had come into new ways and into new thoughts, and she would...

    • PART TWO Rosaria

        (pp. 101-110)

        Some weeks after Rosaria had come from Italy, another family had moved into the Parterre. The family of Davido Monterano consisted of himself, his wife, and four children. In Italy Davido Monterano had been an army engineer who had been court-martialled because of inefficiency. He had been discharged from the army, had refused to return to his native town of Castello-a-Mare, had met his family in Naples secretly and embarked for New York. After all, what would have been the fate of an ex-captain in the small town, cashiered out of the army and thrown back into the civilian population...

        (pp. 111-153)

        After the wars with Menelik,¹ the Villetto branch of the great bank of Naples in Basilicata failed and the whole countryside became for the time being still more impoverished than ever. The responsible officials had fled the province. Some were known to be in hiding in Italy. Several had made their way to the seaports and embarked for America. It was the first marked exodus of the Villettani, the beginning of the emasculation of the town—a veritable emasculation, for the young men unceremoniously pulled up their stakes and moved off in the wake of the escaped officials. The church...

        (pp. 154-171)

        La Signora Maria Monterano was the kind of person who realizes her superiority to the world in general without expressing it openly to any one. Her family had been of consequence in Castello-a-Mare. They had often been entrusted by the parish with the care of the needy and the infirm. It had been a tradition with them. Even when one of her uncles, a young seminarian, had broken definitely with the Catholic church during the wave of free-thinking that had passed over Italy in the wake of the Risorgimento and had gone to the dismal extent of embracing the Baptist...

        (pp. 172-194)

        At the end of two years, the three boys returned home. Carmela, however, remained a year longer. Besides their changes in stature and habits, they had mastered English and forgotten Italian. But more important than these was the transformation effected by close discipline, daily contact with masses of children, lack of variety, restricted environment, absence of opportunity for independent effort—in other words, the prison-like shelter from all the natural ways of life.

        After one year in the asylum, Carmela had learned enough English to be placed in charge of a Sunday class for girls. She had gone through all...

        (pp. 195-228)

        Progress on the church was slow. Gennaro fretted and fumed.

        “Every time you move you get something signed, every time you get something signed you peel off money from the pile, every time you peel off a thousand bills you got to collect a thousand more and every time you collect a thousand more you know you’ll be able to collect a thousand less the next time. Nobody in America wants to go to heaven if it costs them money … bah!”

        But plunging headlong into this added activity seemed only to create new energies in him.

        “I got more...

    • PART THREE Carmela

        (pp. 231-255)

        At the age of twenty, Carmela had become a leading business woman of Little Italy. What was more, her fame as a milliner had spread downtown. A year after her shop had been opened, she began talking to Gennaro about going entirely into manufacture and abandoning the selling end of the shop. The salesmen had carried the report of her good looks far and wide. But it certainly was not that alone that earned for her a signal reputation in the trade. The three years she had spent at the juvenile asylum in charge of the younger girls and their...

        (pp. 256-284)

        The complications that arose could never have been foreseen by Gennaro nor Carmela. Their lives were to be completely transformed. The presence of the three young people attached to them now by ties of a responsibility not born of the flesh but of bravery was a definite delimitation of all their activities. To begin with, it necessitated a change in the physical arrangements of the Parterre. The kitchen in the Monterano flat was torn out and the room made into a bedroom for Gilda. The dining room was abandoned and turned into a place where the children, including Emilio, kept...

        (pp. 285-328)

        Home life by its very nature brings about adjustments which achieve a surface comfort and the illusion of stable peace. Gennaro and his son met and talked and lived in the genial acceptance of each which is the mark of friendship between father and son. Carmela’s tact and charm, acting like a rich clear solvent, filled the Parterre with a new life and the young people fell quickly into its spirit. She continued her personal interest in each one of them, discussed their college plans and their life at college, and as treasurer of their establishment provided them with sufficient...

    (pp. 329-338)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-340)