Editorial Review: Only Our Destiny by A.G. Russo
Only Our Destiny by A. G. Russo takes readers through the tragedies and setbacks of one Italian family from the small fishing village of Punto Roccioso. Although the family and the town are fictional, this novel reveals historical events and real hardships of southern Italy in an engrossing family saga.
When the story opens, an outbreak of the deadly Spanish flu and the First World War have already taken many lives in this village. Raffaela’s father, convinced she needs a strong husband, arranges to have her married to Giuseppe, although she doesn’t have any love or affection for him. Young Raffaela protests this marriage, but the famiglia is everything in Punto Rocciosa, and she has no choice but to do as her father says. This marriage sets Raffaela’s story in motion, and sadly, it’s just the beginning of her hardships.
As a young woman, Raffaela longs to immigrate to the US, and throughout the story of her life in Punto Roccioso, her correspondence with those relatives who did immigrate creates almost an alternate life for her. As readers follow Corrado’s story in Brooklyn, along with Raffaela’s in the village, we’re encouraged to imagine how Raffaela’s life could have turned out, if she lived in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn with her uncles.
Daily life is a struggle for almost everyone in the poor village. Many Southern Italian farming or fishing villages lacked resources, and Punto Roccioso is no exception. Raffaela’s life in particular, with a cruel husband and ten children to support, is a constant struggle.
This novel shows the strong spirit of siblings, and their affection for each other and for their mama. Without revealing spoilers, the oldest son Geno is able to do almost anything to help his family get by, and to extract justice for his beloved mother. The oldest daughter, Luisa, constantly shows courage beyond her years. One of the children even confronts a mafioso, saying that hunger is more frightening than the mob.
Although the story offers beautiful rustic settings and warm relationships, Only Our Destiny is not a light read. The novel takes readers through the hardships caused by war and poverty in this small town. Historical events, like the rise of fascism and the expulsion of the Jews from Italy, are shown through the lives of this family. Because readers are led to care about the family, and their very close friends, right from the start of the novel, this becomes a story of courage and compassion in the face of hardship, not just a historical account.
On the other side of the ocean, the Brooklyn branch of their family starts to build a new life. The Brooklyn branch of the family is slightly better off, but they still work long hours, trying to save a little bit extra to send back to Punto Roccioso. They also deal with the powerful mafia connections in their neighborhood, as well as anti-Italian prejudice, especially during World War II. This shows another side of the Italian story.
The most upsetting enemy for most of this novel is simply poverty. Even Giuseppe, the villain of Raffaela’s life and all of Punto Roccioso, had a rough start in an orphanage due to poverty. Even when the novel takes us through partisan battles or cruelty within the village, the biggest motivator of the story’s aggressors is often poverty. This makes the villains believable, but makes the situations even more tragic.
Fortunately, there are sweet moments of celebration, romantic love and warm family affection to brighten the family’s story of hardship.