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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, the debut novel of Joe Giordano

Birds of Passage, An Italian Immigrant Coming of Age Story, the debut novel of Joe Giordano

What turns the gentle mean and the mean brutal? The thirst for wealth? The demand for respect? Vying for a woman? Birds of Passage recalls the Italian immigration experience at the turn of the twentieth-century when New York’s streets were paved with violence and disappointment.
Leonardo Robustelli leaves Naples in 1905 to seek his fortune. Carlo Mazzi committed murder and escaped. Azzura Medina is an American of Italian parents. She’s ambitious but strictly controlled by her mother. Leonardo and Carlo vie for her affection.

Azzura, Leonardo, and Carlo confront con men, Tammany Hall politicians, the longshoreman’s union, Camorra clans, Black Hand extortion, and the Tombs prison.

"With Birds of Passage, Joe Giordano delivers a rollicking, wholly entertaining take on the Italian immigrant story.  His rich cast of characters arrives seeking the usual: Money, honor, love, respect, a decent shot at the pursuit of happiness. But things get complicated fast as they plunge into the rough-and-tumble world of rackets, scams, and politics of early 20th-century New York City. Giordano serves up a thick, satisfying slice of the entire era in all its raw and brutal glory."  
Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a major motion picture directed by Ang Lee.

Joe Giordano’s stories have appeared in more than ninety magazines including The Saturday Evening PostShenandoah, and The Summerset Review. Harvard Square Editions published Birds of Passage October 2015.

Purchase Birds of Passage on Amazon:

Interview provided by the author

  • Congratulations on the publication of BIRDS OF PASSAGE.  What was the genesis of the novel?
A: My father was an immigrant from Naples as were all my grandparents. I’m old enough to have known Italians born in the nineteenth-century. While Birds of Passage is not about my family, I tried to capture how people of that time thought and acted. Immigration, of Hispanic people into the United States is a hot topic and there are many parallels to what Italian immigrants faced in the past.

  • How long did it take to write before submitting it for publication?
A: I started the novel in October 2013. My first draft was completed by the following April. I had the manuscript professionally edited, reworked, then I started submitting to publishers in August. By January of 2015, Harvard Square Editions expressed interest, but with suggestions for improvement and asked for a second edit. When the rewrite was completed, Harvard Square Editions agreed to publish in May 2015.

  • How much research did you do?  For example, how did you know about the arranged marriages, the medical inspections before boarding the boat, municipal corruption?  Was the union busting done by Italian scabs historical fact?
A: I took a graduate course at the University of Texas at Austin on the Progressive Era, mainly to learn about the environment my family encountered when they immigrated to the United States. My paper for the course focused on Italian immigration and I read numerous books and papers on the subject. The course reading and the paper research were the foundations for the historical facts included in the novel. During the semester, I wrote a short story, “The Sour Smell of Pain,” which triggered the idea to write a novel.
Birds of Passage begins in 1905. My wife, Jane’s grandparents had an arranged marriage in 1916, although by then the practice had faded. Italians were hungry for work and did participate in strikebreaking until they were finally accepted into unions. In Birds of Passage, I provide an option for how Italians might have become part of the Longshoreman’s Union.

  • There are several intertwined, intricate plots at work in the novel.  How do you plot?  Do you work from an outline?  We’re thinking of a line late in the novel when the main character and his adoptive father are discussing the murder of the main character’s half-brother:  “Don’t torture yourself. No one could have imagined every twist of events.”  That could also serve as a tagline for the story, but when you start a project, do you first imagine every twist of events?
  1. Duel interweaving plots seems a standard technique in fiction.  I had a general idea on how the story would unfold around Leonardo, Carlo, and Azzura, but as happens many times in my writing, the characters revealed what they would do next only when they were plunged into some difficult situation. I believe it was John Updike who labored over the last line of his novels, then never deviated. I’m not that good.

  • Is "bird of passage" an historical phrase used by Italian immigrants?
A: Italians were the first immigrants to the United States who returned to their home country. Quite often, they worked a season and returned with savings. Most were men. Many made multiple round trips. These travelers were termed Birds of Passage by Americans. When immigration laws were tightened after World War I, many decided to stay permanently in the U.S. and brought over families.

  • Any concern that this novel and others in the Italian-immigrant genre contribute to a cliché that Italian-Americans are inherently criminal?   The Medinas are law-abiding, but a lot of the other characters of Italian heritage are not (as are not the Irish- and Anglo-Americans).
A: There are a number of Italian-American groups who criticize the portrayal of Italian-Americans as criminals. I think that the Italian-Americans of today are Americans, fully integrated, and less likely to suffer from the prejudice of stereotypes. Many Italian-Americans admired The Godfather even though the Corleone family was criminal. The Corleones exemplified courage, family loyalty, resourcefulness, their own brand of integrity and seemed to control their destiny. They killed people, but that was just business. The character, Ignazio Terranova, in Birds of Passage, represents a more accurate Italian criminal personality around 1905 than does Vito Corleone.

  • Leonardo’s thoughts and expectations at the end of the novel beg for a sequel . . .is a sequel in the works?
A: My next novel is a modern literary thriller, Appointment with ISIL. Harvard Square Editions will release the book in the spring 2017. I hope you won’t be able to put it down. A sequel to Birds of Passage is in my mind but not yet on paper.

  • A final question, related to writing in general, that our readers are probably interested in and would find valuable: How do you handle rejection?
A: I have a number of friends who won’t seek publication because of sensitivity to rejection. I think writers should embrace rejection as an incentive to improve. We must resist the temptation to argue with feedback but instead reflect on why the particular editor/reader had that reaction. The reader, not the writer, is in charge of determining both the quality of the piece and its meaning. When it comes to writing, I have a lot to learn, but the creative process is fun. Rejection makes acceptance sweeter.

Visit Joe’s website where you can read the first chapter of both his novels:

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