Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Sicilian's Journey - Book Review

Buongiorno a tutti! This month we have had the pleasure of reviewing a wonderful book written by William V. Fioravanti. It is a truly captivating read and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Sicily and in Italian immigration. For those of you who have not yet seen the article on our website ( here is the author's description of his book and our review -

William V. Fioravanti’s Book Description

This is a non-fiction account of the life of my grandfather. His life starts in Sicily and follows him through his arrival in New York and his experiences in the small colonial town of Johnstown and twin city Gloversville. Although it is not permeated with gangsters and violence, there is much action. Life for immigrants in these small upstate New York villages was not a simple transition and there are plenty of unusual happenings.

I wrote this story as a treatment for a screenplay and when you peruse the work you will see how it flows from chapter to chapter. Some chapters are short but still very visual. It is my sincerest desire that you will find a very unusual and exciting journey of a Sicilian immigrant striving to survive in a new and fast changing world.
History, love and passion are all prevalent in great abundance in A Sicilian’s Journey. This book is full of interesting information about the actual events of one family taken from all aspects. I have a great interest in Sicilian culture and the history of Sicilian immigration to America and gained much knowledge from reading this book. As soon as I had read two chapters I was engrossed to see how the story unravelled and to reveal the final outcome.

The story begins in Sicily in 1878 with Vincenzo Saviotti. Many villages at the time, although beautiful and historic, did not have an economy that could support families. Although the Saviotti family had lived in a small Sicilian village called Castelmola for many years, Vincenzo decided to take his trade as a cobbler to Messina. It is from this decision that the story of the Fioravanti and Andreana family begins. As Castelmola, close to Taormina, is a town that I visit often, I was very interested to read the differences between the Castelmola that I am familiar with now and that of two hundred years ago.

A Sicilian’s Journey moves between different points in time and focuses on different characters of this Sicilian family. It is written in such a way that is flows effortlessly from one section to another. I have found the family completely fascinating and I particularly enjoyed reading about Guglielmo Fioravanti, the author’s Grandfather, and genuinely cared about him. As I was reading the book, I constantly wanted to find out more about the journey of Guglielmo, and all of his family members, and what happened to them.

Sicilian Americans would relate to this book tremendously; I personally found it a truly emotional read. I experienced a wide range of feelings and became very involved with the story. It was easy to picture it all in my mind, making it very real and prompting me to learn more about the immigration of Italian Americans and the harsh reality of it; the dreadful conditions on the ships, the claustrophobia, the dysentery and disease... how did they manage to survive?

The fact that Italians changed their names from their own Italian birth names to American names highlights the prejudice felt by the immigrants and the measures that they were forced to take in order to be accepted. They faced terrible unemployment and difficult housing situations due to their Italian nationality and allegedly ‘lowly’ stature in America. It is easy to see why Ellis Island became known as the ‘Island of Tears’.

I was truly compelled by this book and by Guglielmo Fioravanti who, with great foresight, kindness, generosity and hard work for his family allowed them to prosper and to be blessed in his choice to relocate to the northern New York state of Johnstown. This lovely book is a must-read.

A Sicilian’s Journey can be purchased to read on your Kindle at the following link -
A presto,
Debra Santangelo

Monday, 9 September 2013

La Festa di Santa Rosalia - Bensonhurst

Buongiorno a tutti! I hope that you all had a wonderful Summer and had the chance to attend at least one of the wonderful Italian festivals that took place all over the world. One of these festivals was 'La Festa di Santa Rosalia' which took place in the Bensonhurst area of Brooklyn, New York.

When hundreds of thousands of immigrants left Sicily in the late nineteenth century for the shores of America they took many of their traditions and customs with them. This made the transition slightly easier and enabled them to enjoy a piece of home in this new, unknown land. One of these traditions was the ‘Festa di Santa Rosalia’ which has been celebrated in Palermo for 389 years and has now become a long standing tradition in the Italian American community.

The feast has always been celebrated in Brooklyn but it originally took place in the parish of the Sacred Hearts and St. Stephen’s Church in Carroll Gardens, which was Brooklyn’s first Italian parish. The procession originally involved followers walking barefoot through the streets of the neighbourhood to show their devotion to the Saint. Since then the festival has been moved to the Bensonhurst area where it has existed for seventy years.

This year at 5pm each day from 22nd August to the 1st September, 18th Avenue was closed between 68th Street and Bay Ridge Parkway to allow local residents to enjoy the offerings of over 100 vendors. These Italian American merchants offer a wide range of delicious Sicilian specialities such as cannoli, zeppole and arancini and families from across the city came together to experience this time honoured tradition. Many Sicilian families have moved away from these tight-knit communities in recent years and the Feast of Santa Rosalia often provides the ideal opportunity to come together and share stories of their ancestry and heritage.

There was, however, some controversy surrounding the festival this year. It was originally thought that the feast may have to be cancelled, as it was in 2011, due to problems with street-closure permits and other paperwork issues. Thankfully these issues were resolved at the last minute and it is the wish of this loyal and devoted community that the ‘Festa di Santa Rosalia’ will continue to survive long into the future.
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A presto!
Debra Santangelo