East Liberty: A Novel

East Liberty: A Novel

East Liberty: A Novel

East Liberty: A Novel

Synopsis

East Liberty is a poetic, passionate coming-of-age novel spanning 1955 to 1963, set in an Italian-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Roberto (Bobby) Renzo, the novel's fatherless narrator and main character, lives with Francene Renzo, his beautiful, mysterious, and unconventional mother who gave birth to him out of wedlock. Together the two habitually watch vintage Hollywood movies on TV. Orbiting Bobby and Francene are the Catholic Church; Francene's gothic, judgmental, Neapolitan parents; and the dramatically shifting culture at large hurtling toward them.
While urged by the nuns at his school to pursue the priesthood -- though his dream is to be a big-league baseball player -- Bobby is drawn toward the temptations of the secular world, and finds himself involved in petty crimes and seduced by his awakening sexuality. As he emerges from his childhood cloud of innocence, his desire to know about his father becomes acute, and he is forced to confront the confusion and contradictions that rule his life.
First published in hardcover in 2001, East Liberty won the Carolina Novel Award and was named a finalist for Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year Award in Literary Fiction. This paperback edition features a new foreword by Fred Gardaphé, a distinguished professor of English and Italian American Studies at Queens College/CUNY and the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute.

Excerpt

We all come from one East Liberty or another. It’s a familiar place that gets richer as time moves on, a place that memory fashions out of fact and fantasy, out of what was and what should have been, where imagination takes what once was real and weaves it into something that’s useful. The pieces of our personal history that come from such places become the building blocks of personality, and for the fiction writer, that past becomes a playground out of which stories, often better than the histories, are spun.

Joseph Bathanti’s East Liberty lies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, an area of the city that housed Italians and blacks during the 1960s—when the Pittsburgh Pirates were baseball’s world champs, when everyone is singing the songs from the film West Side Story, when nuns are the queens of corporal punishment and single-parent families are rare. The narrator, Roberto Renzo, describes himself as “a boy who has always said he will marry his mother.” He lives with the fear that his mother, whom he refers to—at her insistence—as Francene, will never return whenever she leaves him, sometimes with her parents, Italian immigrants from Naples, sometimes with friends he calls uncle and aunt.

Mothers have never fared well in an American literature crowded by male writers who turn into or against their traditional macho fathers as they find their ways from boys to men. It seems that the only writers who have acknowledged the power their mothers have had in shaping their manhood are Italian Americans such as Mario Puzo, who in his The Fortunate Pilgrim (1964), set the groundwork for his accepted American classic The Godfather (1969) by turning Lucia Santa, the mother figure of his earlier novel, into Don Vito Corleone; Robert Ferro, with his The Family of Max Desir (1984) sets the mother figure as the center of all the novel’s relationships.

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