I just finished reading Arrivederci, New York, the first volume of Eugene Christy's promised five volume family saga, the Twentieth Century Quintet. An ambitious undertaking by any standard.
The first volume focuses on Tony LaStoria, a ten year old Italian boy seeking to return to New York. A very young boy fleeing a brutal father. Christy renders the beginning of Tony's adventures with verve and a lyrical prose which borders the poetic. "On his cheeks he felt tears carving rivulets into his face the way the rivers of time and place chiseled rivers into the mountains.
Then Tony arrives in Manhattan and Christy's astonishing grasp of a particular time and place transports the reader back to the New York City of the early days of the 20th century. Without sacrificing the story, Christy does an excellent job of describing the exploitation and the many hardships immigrants were forced to endure in the old New York before the rise of the unions—the sweatshops, the piecework system of the garment district, structured not unlike today with work done by "independent" contractors.
Arrivederci, New York is a rich narrative. We are treated to a whole cast of characters, Italians, Polish and Jew, as well as contemporary politics and union organizing. Christy has done his homework. This is a very different sort of fictionalized memoir, an immigrant's saga which both tells a great story and informs the reader. I highly recommend it and look forward to the next book in the series.