Lust, betrayal and pride shatter a 1928 Italian family, forcing the couple to live separate lives—Isabella in Italy; Pietro in America. He bases his new life on gambling, extortion, bootlegging and bigamy. She uses deceit to safeguard her family and aid WWII partisans who regard her son a hero and her daughter a Nazi collaborator. 29 years pass before Pietro returns with an American son determined to befriend the family his father deserted. But first, Pietro must redeem himself to his family.
Targeted Age Group:: Over 18
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This generational saga is all about deceptions. Deceptions shatter a Piemontese family in 1928 Northern Italy and send the husband to America where he mines copper in Montana before more deceptions make him a rich bootlegger in East St. Louis. Meanwhile in Italy the wife and children he deserted use deceptions more honorable than his to survive poverty and the devastation of WWII.
I wrote about an intriguing period of history, most of which I didn’t experience firsthand but learned about through extensive research that doesn’t get much better than exploring Montana’s Big Sky country and the Piemonte Region of Northern Italy. The first breath I ever took occurred in East St. Louis, at 40th and Waverly, where I later spent my early years exploring the neighborhood on roller skates.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters are products of a vivid imagination, some inspired by I’ve known or from stories passed down through the years.
At dawn on Thursday Aldo pulled the Rocca cart into the main piazza in Cuorgnè, and Pietro secured a prime station on farmers’ row. The area soon displayed an abundance of dairy products, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and small livestock. Stalls offering house wares, dry goods, and groceries completed the remaining rows to cover the entire square. By seven o’clock customers who crowded the narrow aisles held their money tight and gave their children free reign. Competition was spirited but cordial as vendors held up their products to entice the more discriminating.
Throughout the morning shoppers, and later vendors, stopped at the Rocca cart to welcome Pietro’s return with handshakes and shoulder pats or cheek-to-cheek kisses. None left without imparting praise for Isabella’s ability to take over in her husband’s absence. More than once Pietro closed his eyes and thanked God for the warmth of family and friendship. He gave thanks again after he and Isabella sold all of their dairy products and most of the spring vegetables and bartered for items they didn’t produce.
For the twins market day meant weaving through the rows with children no better controlled than they were. But when Isabella issued her final call, Riccardo and Gina obeyed. They stood near the cart, bouncing a red ball across the aisle until an old woman, laden with shopping bags and three caged chickens, hobbled into their game. A flash of red rolled across her path. She stumbled, her belongings scattered. The cage door flew open and amidst a flurry of feathers the squawking hens escaped. Pietro cursed himself for not moving faster than Isabella. She scooped up two hens in quick succession and returned them to their cage. Gina and Riccardo cornered the third.
“Mama, Mama!” Riccardo yelled. “We got it.”
“Ouch, the damn thing bit me!”
“Watch your mouth.”
“Grab the tail. Ouch, ouch.”
“Don’t let it get away.”
When the owner grabbed her bird from Gina, it promptly keeled over in her hands. “Morto, morto,” the old woman wailed through a smattering of broken teeth.
Isabella remained calm, and with the tip of her middle finger, she revived the hen with a gentle massage to its fluttering breast.
After caging the sedated chicken, the old woman opened her arms to the heavens. “Mother of Jesus, shower your many blessings on this mother of little demons. She heals with the touch of an angel.”
“It’s only a chicken,” Gina whispered to Riccardo.
“Sh-h-h! The vecchia might hear you and cast an evil eye.”
While church bells pealed the noonday Angelus, Pietro piled empty containers into the cart and Isabella carried a round of cheese across the piazza to a shop bearing the bold lettering: Tommaso Mino, Fotografia.
“Maso can take us at twelve-thirty, before he sits down to eat,” she said on her return. “What’s more, he has a room where we can change.”
In less than thirty minutes the Rocca family underwent a striking transformation: Pietro in his three-year-old suit, tailor-made but inexpensive; Isabella in pale green georgette with contrasting embroidered collar; Riccardo, a belted jacket with dark socks stretching to his knickers; and Gina, rose taffeta and patent leather buckle shoes. Surrounded by a setting of velvet backdrops and ivy-covered pedestals, they allowed themselves to be readied for posterity as Tommaso Mino tilted heads, positioned hands and pinched cheeks.
At last he stepped back and surveyed the Rocca mannequins. With cupped fingers to his lips, he smacked approval, and then centered his head under the camera cloth. Clutching the shutter bulb in one hand, he spoke with reverence. “Perfetto. Nobody move. Nobody move. Nobody—”
“All right, everybody, again.”
Riccardo turned to chastise his sister.
Pietro delayed another three minutes while he walked off a debilitating cramp. Then Riccardo put one finger up his nose. Gina giggled again. Pietro coughed. Gina shoved Riccardo. Riccardo shoved Gina.
The fifteen minutes Tommaso had allotted as a favor to Isabella extended to thirty. Then, forty-five. Through the curtained doorway of his living quarters drifted the aroma of garlic and anchovies simmering in olive oil. Twice, his wife called out that dinner was almost ready.
“Everybody, look at the camera.”
“Wait,” Pietro said, reaching in his pocket. “I almost forgot.” He leaned over Isabella and pinned Zia Theresa’s brooch to her shoulder. He’d brought the earrings too but decided they could wait for another occasion. The children gave up their poses to ooh and aah over the new treasure. As for Isabella, she snatched a glimpse that produced a smile worthy of the Blessed Virgin.
Using the rumpled camera cloth, Tommaso gathered mounting perspiration from his forehead. “For the last time, p-lease,” he implored through a mouth no longer smiling. “I am running out of film.”
“And patience,” Pietro mumbled.
Isabella, regal and unflinching, raised her voice for the first time. “Nobody move. My stomach’s growling louder than Maso’s.”
Her words restored order. The mannequins froze, and the photographer squeezed his shutter control.
“Bella, bella,” he whispered.
Seconds later the Rocca family gathered their possessions and hurried to the anteroom where Tommaso waited, his sweaty hand clasping the doorknob.
“I do not waste time or money developing inferior negatives,” he said, motioning the Roccas onto the cobblestone walkway. “Experience tells me that only the last shot will meet the high standards I set.” He bowed as Isabella passed by. “Signora Rocca, I will have your order ready next week.”
Loretta Giacoletto divides her time between the St. Louis Metropolitan area and Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks where she writes fiction, essays, and her bi-monthly blog, Loretta on Life, while her husband Dominic cruises the waters for bass and crappie. Their five children have left the once chaotic nest but occasionally return for her to-die-for ravioli and roasted peppers topped with garlic-laden bagna càuda. An avid traveler, she has visited numerous countries in Europe and Asia but Italy remains her favorite, especially the area from where her family originates: the Piedmont region near the Italian Alps.
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