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Monday, July 22, 2013

Author Spot Light and Review of "Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing" by Marianna Randazzo

Following is an Interview done with Author Marianna Randazzo at the Italian Bridge. Please enjoy!



July, 2013

The special interview with Marianna Randazzo, author of Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing: a novel inspired by a true story that will give you a clear picture of Italy at the WW II time.

Italian-American Author Interview
Marianna Randazzo
Author of‘Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing

Thank you for being here with us Marianna! First of all, I’d like to talk about your first book, Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing, a novel based in Italy.

What inspired you to write this book?
Thank you for the opportunity to speak about my novel.
For many years I heard my mother tell warm, loving stories about her parents and about her life in Sicily. Although she was the oldest of five siblings, her stories never seemed to include her sister Tina who was only thirteen months younger than she was.
When I questioned her about her sister, she simply said, “Tina wasn’t living with us, she was staying with an aunt in another town.Although it seemed strange, I never insisted on knowing why. I could see it was a difficult subject.
As I grew older, I heard my aunt speak about how unhappy she was as a child. “Your mother and I lead very different lives in Sicily,” she would say. I could see that many things about her past tormented her over the years.
When I retired from teaching, I decided to pursue my second love, writing. On Mother’s Day of 2010, I offered to write Tina’s story. I believe I made her the happiest woman that day.
After almost three years of interviews and research, the book was complete.
This book shares very strong themes; WWII, the Fascism and the poverty we Italians experienced in those years. It offers to the American readers a full pictures of the Italian climate at the Was time.

Why did you decide to share such a strong story with your readers?
These were the times my parents grew up in, the shadow of Fascism. My grandfather was a proud card-carrying fascist. Although I didn’t know my grandfather, I know that Mussolini brought great promises and hope to the Italian people. An illusion that was quickly shattered as war devastated the nation.
I wrote this story to applaud and remember the men and women of that generation. Also, for young people to understand the sacrifices that were made for the opportunities that are available to them now, in Italy as well as in America.

Could you tell us more about Tina, the main character of the novel?
Tina was a child of miserable circumstances. Yet, at no time does she consider herself a victim. Like many children of unhealthy environments, she learns to endure, forgive and move forward. Tina’s account of life in Sicily, during the German Occupation brings events of the Second World War to life through the eyes of a young child.
Tina’s war story begins on the day she arrives at school and finds her desks, chairs and books tossed onto the streets. Intimidating German soldiers paint all the windows purple and occupy her school. Her education is disrupted and the difficult life she was leading becomes even more painful and arduous. Her escapes to caves for shelter, secret missions during the night for bread, dodging planes flying overhead, her harassment from German soldiers are all recollections of her childhood and provide an account of her life set against the backdrop of war.
Tina is a survivor. She is able to forgive those who took so much away from her. Her spirit trumps over adversity. As she grows older, she struggles to keep the harsh realities of World War II and abandonment at a distance through her sense of humor, imagination and determination.

Marianna, as your name suggests, you’re half Italian; What does “being half Italian” means in the USA? Did it influence your life in some way?
I am an Italian- American. My mother was born in Ragusa and my father was born in NYC after his parents migrated from Ragusa Ibla. My father did not speak English until he went to grade school, yet he managed to make it to Columbia University. I had the best of both worlds. In America, my parents kept our culture alive by teaching my brothers and me the language and practicing the rituals of an Italian life. We were also fortunate enough to make trips back to Italy to reunite with extended family.
As a child I would spend months in Marina di Ragusa, living with our great- aunt and her son the Monsignor. They had a church in their house. As an adult, my family visited Italy as tourists, Rome, Capri, Pompeii. All lovely, but give me Marina di Ragusa any day.

Why is your book is considered a novel?
Although Given Away was inspired by true events, there were certain questions that just could not be answered. Therefore, I took everything I learned and spun it into the realistic, inspirational drama that I believe it was meant to be.

Usually Americans love Italians and all that is Italian. What’s the reason for this in your opinion? 
Great food, warm hearts and big personalities!
Thank you Marianna!

In Sicily, between Fascist Mussolini and Nazi Hitler's stronghold, a child is thrust into a world of personal strife and hardship and displaced in offensive living conditions. Though time heals most anything, there are unfathomable stories of the human experience that must be told and retold again so that history can find its peace. Given Away is a story that will touch the core soul of your being.

My Review of "Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing

I found this story to be a very endearing and powerful one.

Although at one moment or another the story spoke of other family members, it revolved more around Tina—who was the main character.

It's a story of hardships, love, and loss, but mostly of survival of a Sicilian family during the 2nd World War. Tina was the one that was ultimately given away. Though in her younger years she didn't understand it, in her teen years she came to understand the concept of 'going on vacation'. One from which she wouldn't return.
This was a young girl of a feebly body but a strong mind, and through even the hardest of times, she survived.
I enjoyed this story. I felt the concept was much like “The Diaries of Ann Frank” I was able to relate to the characters and plot very well, and the image of the time and scheme easily formed in my mind.
If you love inspiring stories—ones in which calamity and misery are prevailed over, you'll love this story.

Review Board Member Ms. Queen of Spades review of "Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing"

What a great book trailer—it definitely draws you in and makes one want to explore deeper into Given Away: A Sicilian Upbringing.

This novel took me on a roller coaster of emotions. 

Conflicted: I confess to feeling conflicted about Tina’s mother, Sarina. Although towards the end of the book, she strives to be a better mother for her youngest two children, it doesn’t quite forgive the way she was at the beginning with her other children. Sarina does have moments when she feels some levels of guilt for giving Tina away, but it’s not powerful enough for her to insist on getting her back from Vittoria. It’s only when she’s needed for assistance with other family members that the deal with Vittoria was broken, and Francesco (the father) decides to get Tina. I don’t really think it was because they missed her and that’s the thing that bothers me: the fact that children can be bartered like property as if they aren’t human.

Dislike: My dislike for Gianni, Vittoria’s husband, remained consistent, even in moments when he revealed a softer side. He has to feel power by hurting the weak (like Vittoria), which goes to show how weak he truly is. He should have used that power to stand up for Tina when the German soldiers were pulling her hair. Instead of saying anything, he allowed it to happen. I worried a lot that Vittoria would end up dead because of the severity of the abuse Gianni would dish out.

Empathy and Sympathy: I feel these things for Tina and her situation, particularly the dynamic between her and Lena. Lena felt like that Tina had an advantage, since she got to leave and go to the country. However, Tina got the bad end of the stick. Because of Lena’s interpretation of Tina’s “vacation” it caused a dissention between them, and they never got back to the closeness they once shared before the separation. When Tina would see her family for the holidays, they did “things” for her but I never heard any expressions of “love” expressed towards Tina. There was mainly focus on how useful Tina could be to someone else as far as her abilities. Lena ended up being used in the same way—she served as a second mom (in some cases, the primary mom) to her siblings.

I also felt for Vittoria. All Vittoria wanted was children of her own, which she could not have. I could understand her perspective—why the deal would have been of benefit to her. 

The conflict(s) are prevalent throughout the novel (abandonment, sickness, warfare) and the setting and mood definitely made me feel as if I was part of the action.

For more of Queen's Review, please visit: The Review Board