Good memoirs are well-crafted with specific reminiscences described in not necessarily elaborate, but always carefully chosen language. You feel like you’re across a table from the writer as they tell their tale. This one goes beyond satisfying those requirements by Arrigo’s special adeptness at weaving strands: one deals with the complexities of feeling that twelve year- old Anna has for her dying father—a father who had been both physically abusive yet at other times loving. Her family had a difficult time assimilating to life in New Jersey following their move from Sicily: “The streets of America are paved with gold and money, the villagers had said, but they were mistaken.” Another well-woven strand includes Anna’s memories of her early childhood in Sicily with descriptions of her beloved grandmother and other family members, not to mention her father’s cuisine which included tasty eggplant, and less than appetizing goat’s head (including eyeball and brain).
Anna’s sweeter recollections of Sicily (the flower crowns and handmade dresses) gave her the strength to deal with a life that was often hard to endure. She wondered if her dying father was able to go to an ‘imaginary spot’ like she had so many times when she was “tied to the faded flower chair.” She had gone to that spot in order to withstand the cruelty of his physical punishments. Arrigo’s narrative delivers a powerful punch when she writes how clearly upset she was by her father’s suffering at the end of his life. After all, “it was also those boxer’s hands that nurtured me when I was ill.” The memoir ends with a moving poem, in which Arrigo writes: “I will not hold in judgment those seeking only my survival when/I yearned and sought to live instead.” Not only is Anna Casamento Arrigo a wonderful writer, she is a survivor!