The child of Italian immigrants and an award-winning scholar of Italian literature, in My Two Italies Joseph Luzzi straddles these two perspectives to link his family’s dramatic story to Italy’s north-south divide, its quest for a unifying language, and its passion for art, food, and family.
From his Calabrian father’s time as a military internee in Nazi Germany—where he had a love affair with a local Bavarian woman—to his adventures amid the Renaissance splendor of Florence, Luzzi creates a deeply personal portrait of Italy that leaps past facile clichés about Mafia madness and Tuscan sun therapy. He delves instead into why Italian Americans have such a complicated relationship with the “old country,” and how Italy produces some of the world’s most astonishing art while suffering from corruption, political fragmentation, and an enfeebled civil society.
With topics ranging from the pervasive force of Dante’s poetry to the meteoric rise of Silvio Berlusconi, Luzzi presents the Italians in all their glory and squalor, relating the problems that plague Italy today to the country’s ancient roots. He shares how his “two Italies”—the earthy southern Italian world of his immigrant childhood and the refined “northern” Italian realm of his professional life—join and clash in unexpected ways that continue to enchant the many millions who are either connected to Italy by ancestry or bound to it by love.
The child of Italian immigrants and an award-winning scholar of Italian literature, in My Two Italies Joseph Luzzi straddles these two perspectives to link his family's dramatic story to Italy's north-south divide, its quest for a unifying language, and its passion for art, food, and family.
“This is a delightful, poignant, moving, entertaining but above all illuminating book, which like the best art has many layers—of the Italian-American experience, of Italy’s north-south divide, of Italy’s strange but fascinating modern history and of the personal journey of its author. I commend it warmly.” —Bill Emmott, author of Good Italy, Bad Italy and former editor of The Economist“Joseph Luzzi has skillfully woven together a powerful and moving memoir of his Calabrese family and an entertaining, incisive study of an Italy split between north and south, St. Francis and Berlusconi, Botticelli and the Sopranos. My Two Italies is sad, funny, and deep—a timely book, packed with searching questions.” —Marina Warner, winner of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism and author of The Lost Father “Anecdotes . . . give Luzzi’s work richness. And Luzzi’s academic prowess in all cultural things Italian, adds spice. He draws from numerous authors, both long-gone and still alive, to delve into Italy’s history and explain how the country’s dialect-driven languages eventually were woven into one.” —Lee Coppola, Buffalo News“Luzzi’s evocative personal history and incisive cultural critique illuminates the complex forces that have shaped his own identity. Being Italian and American, he comes to realize, has been both a bountiful gift and ‘an ethnic cross I had to bear.’” —Kirkus “Midway along the journey through his life, Dante scholar Luzzi wakes to find himself in a dark wood of longing and desire, wishing to know more about his Calabrian heritage. Luzzi, a wonderful storyteller, plays Virgil to our pilgrim, guiding us through the schizophrenic character of Italian culture. To arrive at a deeper understanding of his Italian heritage, Luzzi enrolls in a doctoral program in Italian literature and language, studying Dante and Northern Italy rather than his family ancestral homeland of Calabria in the south. Luzzi energetically, and with some nostalgia, recounts stories of his various travels through Naples and Florence, his encounters with the works of Italian writers, and his meetings with members of his family. He learns that ‘the Italian family is like Italy itself: fragmented on the surface, riven by intrigue, resistant to change, suspicious of outsiders, and quick to set individual interests over group ones.’ In the end, Luzzi embraces his two Italys—Calabria and Tuscany—not as a burden or as a struggle, but as a gift that has brought him ‘inside the disappearing world of my parents and millions of other Italian exiles.’” —Publishers Weekly“The American-born son of poor but tough Calabrian immigrants, Luzzi ‘yearned for the Italy of Dante and Michelangelo, not the one of sharp cheese and salted anchovies.’ But while building a distinguished scholarly career writing about Italian high culture, the very different Italy of his parents continued to haunt him with the smells of its cooking, the calloused hands of his uncles, and the unsentimental way in which his mother dispatched animals for the family table . . . The contrasting ideals provide Luzzi with a lens through which to examine Italy and the Italian American experience, especially that of his family . . . When Luzzi shares his deepest pain—the sudden death of his pregnant wife in a car accident—his investigations of his extended family turn powerfully poignant, for it was they who cared for his infant daughter while he curled in a fetal position in his childhood bed. The result is a memoir that balances thoughtful observation with feelings that, one sense, still remain quite raw.” —Brendan Driscoll, Booklist