PULLING GOD’S TEETH (1882-1886)
Twenty-four-year-old Carlo Como goes out fishing one dawn on the wide river near his northern Italian village of Castrubello. The Pirino has provided a living for the Como family for generations, but this morning Carlo hauls in a very different catch: three large white rocks known as “God’s Teeth.” The valuable stones, coveted by local ceramic-makers, will allow him to marry his love, Tonia Vacci, a worker in the town’s dismal silk mill.
But the fisherman’s good fortune is resented by estate manager Baldassare Gaetano, greedy both for Tonia and the profit from the stones. Carlo’s discovery unleashes a chain of love and jealousy, courage and betrayal, violence and perseverance that will define the Como and Vacci families for decades to come.
Tonia’s brother, Ettore, is determined to advance through life on his own merits and bids farewell to Castrubello. With a hot-headed partner, he forms a construction company and heads south to carve The King’s Road through the mountains of Campania. Ettore soon finds himself fighting an impossible deadline and a band of cut-throat brigands led by the murderous “Corsicano”, who swears to halt the brazen intruder threatening his mountain lair.
PULLING GOD’S TEETH is the first volume of The Last Italian, A Saga in Three Parts, a gripping tale that begins in 1882 Italy and spans more than six decades of social and political tumult. Three generations of the Como and Vacci families face rapacious landowners, deadly epidemics, harrowing warfare, perilous immigration, and Fascist brutality during the Kingdom of Italy’s final sixty-three turbulent years. Throughout, as the characters balance their commitments to love, loyalty, and honor against the harsh demands of physical survival, inscrutable Fate forever stands ready to randomly intervene.
The other books of the trilogy include:
BOOK TWO: FATE’S RESTLESS FEET (1911-1913)
Brothers Gianni and Renzo Como land with an elite Bersagliere regiment in Tripoli, Libya, as the Kingdom of Italy declares war on the Ottoman Empire. What was expected to be a quick, glorious conquest devolves into primal combat as Italian forces are assaulted from all sides. Renzo risks everything to live up to his duty to protect his brother during a treacherous battle fraught with confusion, courage, and unspeakable cruelty.
Despite dire warnings, Angelina Scrivatti undertakes the perilous journey from Castrubello to America to claim a promise of marriage. She eventually arrives at a Michigan mining town to discover the man she loves struggling with guilt and despair. They soon become swept up in a storm of ethnic conflict that leads to a night of grievous tragedy — and a final chance for personal redemption.
BOOK THREE: DEATH TO THE WOLF (1942-1945)
Ettore Vacci celebrates his 80th birthday even as Italy embraces its disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany. Serving with the Italian 8th Army near Stalingrad, Donato Como’s unit faces a massive Soviet offensive and killing winter temperatures in a battle for survival on Russia’s frozen steppes. When the Axis lines break, Donato leads his men in a desperate trek across a desolate wasteland, hounded by the enemy and oppressed by retreating Germans contemptuously disdainful of their Italian allies. As Donato confronts the realities of unforgiving warfare, his allegiance to the home of his forefathers deepens as never before.
In Castrubello, Regina Vacci, Donato’s beloved, courageously defies the Fascists’ merciless persecution of Jews. Meanwhile, Ettore Vacci is shocked to witness his nephew Pietro Como rise to political power within Benito Mussolini’s iron regime. With family loyalties divided, like Italia itself, Ettore Vacci finds he must act — for justice, for his village, for family honor.
Targeted Age Group:: Age 18 and older
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, in the 1950s. My father was the son of Italian immigrants, and he passed on to me what he knew of our family in Italy, which wasn't much. He told me that the Italian branch had all died off, that our small family in the USA was all that remained. Imagine my surprise when, with the advent of the internet, I discovered cousins of my same last name living in my grandparents' small village in Italy. Eventually meeting and getting to know those wonderful people awakened a strong interest in my heritage. It led ultimately to my acquiring dual citizenship. I tried to learn as much history as I could about Italy, and I used much of my research in developing the plot of PULLING GOD's TEETH and the story arc of the entire trilogy, "The Last Italian: A Saga in Three Parts".
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I knew the events I wanted to write about before I knew the characters. Once I charted out my plot outline, I was able to clearly visualize the types of personalities that would do the types of things that needed doing to move the story on its track. Of course, I drew on personal experience to create composite characters with the attitudes, mannerisms, and other attributes I needed, trying hard to make each one distinctive enough to stand up on their own.
Carlo arrived home to find dinner nearly complete. He’d unloaded the rocks at a storage shed the family kept on the Pirino and covered them with unused netting. With only half of a day to fish, his catch had been pathetic, though he remained on the water an extra futile hour.
His lateness was a rare occurrence, and, without words, the family awaited the explanation. He thanked his mother for the plate she brought him and finally said, “My apologies, Papà. I stayed out longer trying to make up for a poor day.”
“A poor day?” Lorenzo responded, seated at the table finishing his fish stew and fried polenta. He scraped his chair back and folded his arms. His shrewd eyes pierced Carlo’s. “Yet elsewhere today we found success. True, Vitorio?” he asked, looking at his son-in-law to his left. Vito Ameretti, nodded, clearing his throat. “It was good, yes, Papà. Francesco and I both worked our usual places. The hook lines were only half-full, but our gillnets yielded plenty.”
Francesco sopped a piece of polenta in the juice on his plate and teased, “Our Carlino is smitten, this is the problem. Every day, he drifts past the silk mill with longing eyes and sighs like a poet. While he daydreams of love, the fish make a buffoon of him!”
“Oh, look at the pulpit this sermon comes from!” Carlo retorted, glad for the banter. “Tell me, Francesco, who wept with heartache before Gemella lost her wits and said she would marry you?” Francesco’s wife, pregnant, laughed from the cucina where she and the other women of the house cleaned up from dinner, listening.
“Don’t hide your shame by changing the subject, little Carlino,” answered Francesco in a sing-song voice, wagging a forefinger back and forth. He knew how his younger brother hated that childhood nickname!
“Tomorrow, the catch must be better,” Lorenzo interrupted, ending the exchange. “A full stomach comes before love!”
The women in the cucina rolled their eyes.
The time was now, Carlo judged. “I have something to tell you,” he said, and with that, he told of his discovery of the rocks, of his intentions for Tonia, and, briefly, of the encounter with Baldassare and the marchese.
After a momentary silence, during which the women emerged, wiping hands on aprons, Lorenzo spoke up.
“Baldassare is a thief, I have always thought so. You and I will sell the Denti di Dio in Guardetto, there is a man I know. And I will speak to Luigi Vacci about the dowry, then you shall go ask for his blessing.”
His mother Lucrezia added, “She is a good choice, Carlo. Tonia Vacci will make you a fine wife. She is from a hard-working family, like our own. We share some relatives with the Vaccis, you know.”
Francesco laughed and slapped his brother’s shoulder. “I knew that love was your problem, Carlino. How can you hope to outwit the fish with your brains addled that way?” He smelled the sweat and the river on his brother. “At least now as a suitor maybe you will find a reason to bathe!”
Carlo smiled banally and flipped his right forefinger several times under his chin.
Lorenzo said, “Mauro La Porta is the ceramics man in Guardetto. He is fair in his dealings, as far as that goes." He finished the last of his wine. "But it will be good for me to be with you. Merchants are never not merchants.”
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