Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book Drops: "Alligator Bayou" by Donna Jo Napoli (YA) (rated 5 stars)

by Donna Jo Napoli

Calogero is running. Running to get help. Running to get away. His uncle, Giuseppe, just shot Dr. Hodge, who was beating his Uncle Carlo with a pistol. This is bad. This is the worse thing that can happen. Uncle Francesco told them all to not cause trouble because of what happened in New Orleans. But how long can someone sit and take the hate, take the ignorance, take the lies? Calogero runs and runs.

The story of the Italian immigrant experience in the south is not something I have been exposed to. The things we usually read about are the Italian immigrants who settled in New York. We watch movies like the Godfather and television shows like the Sopranos but do we ever learn about the ones who settled in the South? Do we learn about the Sicilians who were farmers and not part of the mafia? Not really. Here is a fictional story about the Sicilian experience in the South, specifically Tallulah, Louisiana. Based on real life events, Donna Jo Napoli creates a believable novel about the bigotry, alienation, friendships, and lives of 6 of those immigrants.

The whites tolerate their presence until they start losing money, the blacks are wary but eventually open up their homes to them, and they are away from most of the other Sicilians in the area. Calogero and his family do not understand why they cannot serve the blacks and do not understand the animosity of the whites. They are just trying to live their lives but it seems that in 1899, confrontations could not be avoided when a group hates your people so much and believes you are lower than a dog.

“Alligator Bayou” is a very powerful novel. It introduced a story that we rarely hear about and lets us not forget that ignorance, prejudice and bigotry can lead to violent ends.

If you are interested in more about the Italians in the Southern states, Napoli has a good afterword that has some links to articles she read and other information about resources she used.

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