Anarchist Bastard
"The Anarchist Bastard is eye-opening — vibrant, original, and deep in what it has to say about ancient tradition and its life in America. It did what the best writing does — it made me see the world differently. A beautiful book."

"I was born in 1944, but raised in the fifteenth century." With that, Joanna Clapps Herman neatly describes the two worlds she inhabited while growing up as the child of Italian American immigrants in Waterbury, Connecticut, a place embedded with values closer to Homer’s Greece than to Anglo-American New England, where the ethic of hospitality was and still is more Middle Eastern and North African than Anglo-European, and where the pageantry and ritual were more pagan Mediterranean than Western Christian. It was also a place where a stuffed monkey wearing a fedora sat and continues to sit on her grandmother’s piano, and a place where, when the donkey got stubborn and wouldn’t plow the field, her grandfather bit the animal in a fury. In essays filled with wry humor and affectionate yet probing insights, Herman maps and makes palpable the very particular details of this culture—its pride and its shame, its profound loyalty and its Byzantine betrayals.

"In The Anarchist Bastard, Joanna Clapps Herman stares fervently and lovingly into her Italian-American heritage, surveying the effects of the brutal poverty of southern Italy brought to America. A clever alchemist and gifted storyteller, she mixes humor and sadness, anger and tenderness, extracting wisdom from every ounce of pain. Along the way, the reader inhales the rich aroma of simmering espresso, savors the sweet pasticceria, follows the needle that threads their lives – and discovers a piece of herself in the Clapps family journey."
"In this domestic epic by Joanna Clapps Herman, unforgettable figures encounter one another on the familial battlefield of love and rage. In the fantastically depicted Waterbury, Connecticut, ancient rituals survive and thrive, exquisite and excruciating. Ferociously devoted to the world and characters of her origin, Herman depicts them with ruthless though always empathetic precision. Her voice, tender and haunting, draws us into a narrative dimension between Italy and America, between myth and history, and we cannot help but marvel at its beauty, lyricism, abundance, and relentlessness. A precious chest of stories, The Anarchist Bastard will be counted among the most important Italian American memoirs."
"In this deeply personal and elegant collection of essays, Joanna Clapps Herman brings to life her memorable Italian-American family without shying away from the often painful truths that come with honest examination. At the same time she deftly illuminates the universal challenge of the modern American woman who yearns to understand yet and transcend her immigrant family heritage, thus brilliantly filling a gap in the cannon of contemporary immigrant literature."
"The Anarchist Bastard is a book for anyone interested in family, words, Italy, or the weight of the past in its present incarnations. This is a rich stew, full of delicious chunks of Italian American life, with spices of the Old Country in the rich broth of modern American life. Joanna Clapps Herman digs into her ethnic past, putting flesh and bones on any number of remarkable ghosts. A beautiful and entertaining memoir that deserves a wide audience. Her writing is pungent, fluid, and appealing — a fabulous book."