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Unto the Sons (1992)

Bestselling author Gay Talese now gives us an important and compelling work: the epic of the millions who emigrated from Italy to America beginning at the turn of the century, told full-scale for the first time.

The immigrant saga is brought close to us through the lives of the author's forebears, particularly his Italian-born father, Joseph, a tailor and assimilated American who during World War II existed as an "emotional double-agent" — swayed by his devotion to his brothers fighting in the Fascist army while at the same time aiding the Allied cause as a volunteer shore patrolman within the beachfront community of his adopted home in Ocean City, New Jersey. Joseph's tempered loyalty, felt as well by many fellow immigrants during Italy's unfriendly years with the Allies, brought him into conflict with his American-born son, who saw himself as an "alien" under his father's roof, an "outsider" on the flag-waving Protestant island of Ocean City — "olive-skinned in a freckle-face town."

The son would in time become the chronicler not only of his father's fate but also of the impoverished patriarchal world of Southern Italy that had dispatched multitudes of immigrants to the New World — settlers named La Guardia, Sinatra, DiMaggio, Cuomo, Ferraro, and Iacocca, and the ancestors of the rock singer known as Madonna. The author's own wandering grandfather Gaetano was one of the boatload of workers arriving in the 1880s to embark upon half-lives in a Pennsylvania factory town — returning periodically to their Italian homeland and to their wives (the fabled "white widows"), who had been left behind with the children and the elderly village patriarchs who preferred the Old World to the New. The author's great-grandfather Domenico was one such patriarch, rigidly rooted to his feudal estate in a region immersed in the mysticism of the Church and haunted by persisting echoes of Roman glory and the subsequent waves of foreign invaders that ranged from the Arabs to the Napoleonic French and ultimately to the GIs and Anglos under the Mediterranean's supreme commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Ultimately, Unto the Sons is the stor of all immigrant families and the hope and sacrifice that took them from the familiarity of the Old World to the mysteries of the New — to a place that tested their loyalties, their love, and their links with the past. A stirring and personal epic of discovery, Unto the Sons reinforces Gay Talese's distinct place in American letters as a chronicler of the American experience.

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