The Anarchist Bastard: Growing Up Italian in America

Reviewed by Casey Corthron

By Joanna Clapps Herman
State University of New York Press, $24.95, 248 pages

Joanna Clapps Herman comes to us palms up, arms outstretched, her naked wounds open for the doubtful hand to reach into her riven side. This is the genuine article. Intertwined with the woof and warp of her colorful memoir, her gaze homeward invokes the genius of Thomas Wolfe in subtle Latina tones.

This journey begins on the outskirts of Manhattan where the author leads a double life. She carries us like a tour guide back to her roots, intoxicating us along the way with snippets of Homer and the parallels of ancient Greek myths to her hometown. We travel through the quaint hills of upland Connecticut, around a bend to an old wooden bridge guarding entrance to Waterbury. Somewhere in the overgrown thickets, a faded sign warns us we are now leaving the United States and the twenty-first century. We cross the bridge and are transported magically to twelfth century Tolve, Italy. Here the customs, the clothes, the wine making, the fiefdom rule of the "primo figlio," the first born son, still reign. Nothing has changed.

This kettle of family history boils with the aroma of Old Italy and metropolitan America, savory rich in sorrow and joy, humor and rage.