Critically acclaimed novelist and short story writer Tony Ardizzone makes a
sumptuous and lively contribution to a rich body of American immigration literature
with In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu, a lyrical, poignant, and magical novel
about a large Sicilian family's emigration to the United States in the early part of
the twentieth century.
Dreaming of freedom from a life of brute servitude, hard labor, and debt to a
tyrannical landlord, Papa Santuzzu and his wife, Adriana, push their beloved
children to immigrate to La Merica, the Land of Opportunity. In his "wild and giddy
imagination," Papa Santuzzu ardently believes in the ease of attaining the American
Dream, the promise of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all, and
rests assured that his children will thrive in this great nation of abundance.
Following the painful, yet exuberant, process of the Santuzzu children's
displacement from their homeland and relocation in Papa Santuzzu's conceived lush
"faraway garden," Ardizzone's novel re-imagines the meaning of such a journey, where
every obvious gain entails some unforeseen sacrifice. A loving tribute to Sicilian
American culture, In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu resounds with the
traditional folklore and songs of Sicily, implanting within our hearts a vibrant and
compassionate perspective of the struggles, joys, and proliferation of diasporic
communities in modern America.
In their earnest exodus to America, the Santuzzu children arduously clear away
the weeds and briars in what seems a vast and rugged wilderness, managing to
cultivate their own unknown, yet nonetheless beautiful, version of their Papa's
paradisiacal vision -- building, at last, a home-away-from home.
Here is a rich and vibrant novel about the stories families tell each other,
stories that make up a deeply personal and common history.
"At the end we feel we've sat at the table of a family that has lived the
transformation of the Old World into the New in every fiber of their bones."
-- Thomas Simpson, Chicago Tribune
Picador USA press release
Jacket design by Henry Sene Yee, photograph by Marc Yankus
IN THE GARDEN OF PAPA SANTUZZU
Picador USA Hardcover * July 1999 * ISBN 0-312-20307-1
Picador USA Trade Paperback * July 2000 * ISBN 0-312-26341-4
Publishers Weekly review of In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu, by Tony
Copyright © 1999 by Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1999.
Gathered around a metaphorical campfire, the members of the extended Girgenti
clan take turns regaling us in this robust, beguiling novel about family and the
immigrant experience in the first half of the 20th century. Ardizzone, the author of
two previous novels (Heart of the Order, etc.) and a story collection
(Taking It Home: Stories from the Neighborhood), doesn't cleave to
conventional narrative here -- each chapter is a distinct vignette, with occasional
overlaps as the characters intersect -- so he depends instead on exquisite language
and anecdotal charm to propel the narrative. The cumulative effect is of a kind of
Sicilian Canterbury Tales, rich with fable and folklore and religion even as
it traces a familiar pattern of immigrants struggling to survive in a hostile new
world. One by one Papa Santuzzu sends his seven children off to "La Merica," while
he remains in Sicily with his dead wife and his hard patch of garden dirt. But the
gesture, intended to save his family from a life of poverty, inevitably drives them
apart; in America, the siblings scatter from coast to coast and reunite only when
fate and an unexpected funeral pull them back together. The novel, then, becomes a
eulogy for a lost culture. Ardizzone nods to traditional immigrant tales: scenes of
Ellis Island, sweatshops and brutal discrimination at the hands of the upper class.
But the book's lasting power derives less from its pointed, perfunctory snapshots
than from Ardizzone's sharp metaphors: when the police shoot a striking worker, for
instance, she makes "a bird's nest of her thin, white fingers" to cover her wound;
for most readers, that bird's nest will linger longer than the unjust death.
Sicilia Parra review of In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu, by Tony
Copyright © 1999 by Sicilia Parra (bi-annual newsletter of Arba Sicula), Vol. XI,
No. 2, Winter 1999. Reviewed by Joseph Gibaldi.
Tony Ardizzone's In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu is a remarkable literary
achievement that will likely prove the definitive novel of the massive Sicilian
immigration to the United States in the early 1900s. Beginning in
turn-of-the-century Sicily, Ardizzone (author of Taking It Home: Stories from the
Neighborhood, among other works) chronicles the economic plight of Santuzzu and
his wife Adriana, victims of the ancient latifundium system that prevailed in Sicily
long after it disappeared from the rest of Europe. Santuzzu is condemned to work
"fields of stone" -- "land that was starving, owned by a wealthy baron and ruled by
a cruel gabbillotu, or overseer."
Hearing of a "wonderful, faraway land" called La Merica, which had incredibly
fertile fields, rivers and seas leaping with fish, and mountains filled with gold,
Santuzzu and Adriana decide to send their seven children -- Gaetanu, Luigi, Carla,
Salvatore, Assunta, Rosaria, and Livicedda -- one by one to La Merica, while the
parents remain behind. The novel proceeds to tell of the immigrant children's
struggle for survival, their trials and sufferings, their successes and failures,
and the losses that accompanied their gains in the new world.
We read, on one hand, of Ellis Island ("the Island of Tears"), depressed living
conditions and exploitative and dangerous working conditions, courageous attempts to
organize workers and violent counter-attempts to suppress budding unions, political
corruption in big cities, forced military service, brutal anti-Italian
discrimination, but also, on the other hand, of opportunities to find work, albeit
often demeaning and debilitating, and to improve one's economic life. But as Carla,
the oldest child, points out, "As much as I appreciate the abundance and opportunity
the New World provides, don't think for a moment that I don't know the price we
Yet any attempt to summarize the plot of the novel would fail to recreate the
rich experience of reading In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu. Shifting back and
forth in both time and geography, Ardizzone offers as narrator of each chapter a
different member of the Girgenti family -- the name assigned to them, after their
native province, by an Ellis Island official. Since family members are presented as
gathered around an imaginary campfire, the novel becomes a kind of Sicilian-American
version of Boccaccio's Decameron, with intertwining narratives. Further,
employing evocative poetic language, Ardizzone skillfully blends stark naturalism
with imaginative fantasy, as he infuses his immigration novel with elements of
Sicilian folklore (benevolent witches, talking animals, an enchanted eel, a ewe that
gives birth to thousands of human daughters, a princess who will not laugh, and even
the mythic figure of Guifà).
Brilliantly inspired, then, not only by historical studies, such as Jerre
Mangione and Ben Morreale's La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American
Experience (cited by Ardizzone among his acknowledgements), but also by a wide
range of Sicilian, Italian, and American literary and folkloric sources, In the
Garden of Papa Santuzzu will doubtless take a rightful place among such classic
works of Italian American fiction as Pietro Di Donato's Christ in Concrete,
Mario Puzo's The Fortunate Pilgrim, and Helen Barolini's Umbertina.
Library Journal review of In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu, by Tony
Copyright © 1999 by Library Journal, March 1, 1999. Reviewed by Harold Augenbraum.
Ardizzone's third novel is not your typical immigrant story. When the seven
children of Papa Santuzzu emigrate from rural Sicily to La Merica, they do so one or
two or three at a time. This allows Ardizzone, better known for short stories
(Larabi's Ox), to travel back and forth in time and geography, relating
magical homeland stories, as preludes to immigrant realism. In Sicily, dreams mix
with visions, folktales overtake events, witches cast spells on landowners, dogs and
wolves talk, and ewes give birth to 87,000 human children. In the end, Santuzzu's
grandson returns to the "garden," where Santuzzu will live again, time bending back
on itself through the family's history. Ardizzone's fascinating work is an
intriguing addition to the smallish group of Italian immigrant novels. More literary
than literal, the book reads as if told by ghosts around an open fire. Recommended
for literary and Italian American collections.
Fra Noi review of In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu, by Tony Ardizzone.
"A Celebration of Family," copyright © 1999 by Fra Noi, October, 1999. Reviewed by
Fred L. Gardaphè.
When a gifted writer turns his skills toward the stories of his ancestors, we
usually end up with historical classics the likes of which were penned by a Homer or
a Hawthorne. With Tony Ardizzone's latest novel, In the Garden of Papa
Santuzzu, Italian America can claim another writer in the ranks of these
Ardizzone, whose earlier work has earned such prestigious awards as the Flannery
O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, the Pushcart Prize, and the Milkweed National
Fiction Prize, has been dipping into his Sicilian American background here and there
throughout his earlier work -- one highlight being the short story "Nonna," which is
widely anthologized. In this latest book, he embraces Sicilian culture and doesn't
let go until he wrings out a masterpiece composed of different points of view.
Papa Santuzzu knows that La Merica holds a fortune for his family, but he is
reluctant, if not afraid, to leave the land where he was born, so he sends child
after child, until he is left alone with his visions and his memories. As Rosa Dolci
tells us at the opening, "This is his story and the story of his children. It is
also the story of people like me, whose destiny it was to marry into the Girgenti
family. God willing, one day you'll pick up the thread and tell these stories to
children of your own."
Why might you do this? Because this is also the story of people like you --
children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of immigrants to the United States.
Rosa, who opens the storytelling and serves as the guide through a couple of
ceasuras that thread the twelve tales, helps turn In the Garden of Papa
Santuzzu into a celebration of family past, present, and future.
Throughout the other stories, we learn of the trials of traveling across the
ocean, of how the Mafia came to be, of work in Sicily as a fisherman and in the
United States as a baker, and how to survive selling newspapers in Chicago, "the
City that Works," especially when you must "grease the right wheels."
Ardizzone's clever imagination rises above reality to create a sense of
super-reality, a magical experience with words. This novel is a veritable primer on
how to deal with the theme of immigration to the United States through a mix of
story, history and song. Along the way, through witty phrasing and through
incredible imaginative energy, Ardizzone retells ancient origin myths and creates
original myths of his own that will have you wondering where one begins and the
other ends. Proverbs, poetry, and song lyrics are inserted here and there to give
the work a community spirit.
The author's strength lies in his ability to create lyrical language that creates
voices that you will hear over and over again in your mind, like that of Luigi
Girgenti: "Hell's a lonely place. You don't have to tell me how I know. I know. I
know because one bright night...."
Unlike pure folktale, these stories delve deeply into the conflicts that arise
between self and family, old country and new, to offer us new understandings of the
impact immigration had on everyone involved. Not since Pietro Di Donato's Christ
in Concrete (1939) have we had a novel so rich in language, so strong in story,
so vivid in its telling, and so filled with history that it can be read over and
over again. In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu should be required reading for
everyone who is or knows an American of Italian descent.
Culture Watch review of In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu, by Tony
"Sicily, My Love," copyright © 1999 by Senior Women Web, July 25, 1999. Reviewed by
To Papa Santuzzu, laboring in the unforgiving stony fields of Sicily, the far-off
land of La Merica beckons. He has heard others whisper of its three villages where a
man can grow rich: New York, Brazil and Argentina. The Land of Plenty is not for
him, for he would never abandon his beloved island of Sicilia. But for his seven
children, to leave is to succeed, and as the years pass he sends them all across the
sea. Their ignorance of La Merica matches his. So many of the street signs in New
York City say Ave, notices one son, that it must be a holy place. Author Tony
Ardizzone has a blazing imagination, and makes the everyday struggles and joys of
the Santuzzu family into a magical, moving novel of Italian-American life in the
early part of the century. Steeped in the history of the times, it's a book to be
read slowly and savored.
By turns, the Santuzzu brothers, sisters and spouses tell of their adventures and
confusions, as if following an old custom of sitting at night before a roaring fire,
passing stories one to another until the circle is complete. The living commune with
the dead. They are irreverent: God is talked about as just another old man who wants
"to sit back in his most comfortable chair and listen to Verdi on the radio." Nature
is revealed in human terms, as old myths come alive to fit the present, and fables
of people transformed into animals take a modern turn. Before departing for La
Merica, son Luigi becomes a bandit, howling and joining the wolf pack of men who
live in the hills and rob the wealthy, callous landowners who make life miserable
for the peasants. Catholic miracles occur in the new land, and to one granddaughter
the Madonna shows her surprising feminist side. For most of the family, life is
harsh. They left with hope only to find life equally hard in the cities of their
adopted homeland. Not only are the streets not paved with gold, they aren't even
paved and it is the immigrant sons of Italy who are expected to pave them.
Gaetanu, the eldest son, discovers work in the dark satanic mills of
Massachusetts to be more hurtful to the soul and body than tilling the barren soil
at home. The youngest daughter, Assunta, is condemned by a university dean as coming
from a race of criminals. This paragon of higher education claims that Italians as a
race "have weak chins, low foreheads, little or no intellect, are short in stature,
volatile, unstable, and lacking in any morality." Hearing this, her rich suburban
boyfriend abandons the pregnant Assunta, and she becomes a proud, ahead-of-her-time
At home, Papa Santuzzu rejoices that he has done the right thing by sending away
his family. Alone, he is surrounded by memory, seeing in his barren field a garden
where everyone from his past joins in a dance of joy with Sicilians of an older time
who worshipped ancient gods in temples long since destroyed. After all the years of
difficulties and small triumphs, the scattered family of Papa Santuzzu reunites in
New York City for a funeral and pours out their grief. The oldest daughter reflects:
"Now that we've put our own brother -- our own flesh -- into the ground, now we
truly belonged to that place." After his death, America is no longer a new place for
them. The words "family values" have become cheapened in past years; with this
poetic book, Ardizzone gives them dignity and worth.
Arts Indiana review of In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu, by Tony
Copyright © 1999 by Arts Indiana, September/October, 1999. Reviewed by Charles
In the Garden of Papa Santuzzu is a strange but brilliant medley of fact
and fiction that combines the historical experience of Italian Americans in the
first part of this century with the fables and folklore of the ancient land of
Sicily. Animals talk, fish fly, men change into wolves, ewes give birth to human
children (over 89,000 of them) in a narrative that records such occurrences as
natural and matter-of-fact. For the Italian immigrant newly arrived from Ellis
Island, however, the story is different. The moral is hard-edged and tinged with the
reality of an empty stomach in a land of plenty, except for those at the bottom of
the food chain.
Tony Ardizzone, professor of English at Indiana University, Bloomington, and
author of two previous novels and three short story collections, chronicles the
ironic journey of Papa Santuzzu's children from a Sicilian homeland of servitude,
hard labor and debt to the shores of La Merica "where so much fruit grew on the
trees that it fell and rotted on the ground, and all a man had to do was to put in
an honest day's labor in order for his pockets to grow fat, and there the dreamer's
children would be eternally happy." Typical of the immigrant's tale, no one warns
those arriving With Out Papers of the scorpions, snakes and spiders that guard the
fruit of the garden so zealously.
The fate of the seven offspring of Papa Santuzzu is as varied as the professions
they pursue. A son travels to Chicago successfully turning paper into silver while
another is digested by the hungry factories of the barons of industry who share the
perception of Italians "as a primitive race, inherently criminal, with no morals and
little intellect, something closer to monkey than man." The middle son is prodigal,
black in his misdeeds but returning to the fold and an uncertain future.
Food and starvation is a theme throughout the book. "The pickings were so meager
that any mice or rats desperate enough to venture out from the cracks in our walls
took a spicy swim in our soup pots, and even cacarocchi grew scarce." Likewise,
humor is endemic to this ode to a culture and a lifestyle that has diminished in the
melting pot of America yet continues to spice the stew of our cultural heritage.
An outstanding example of American immigration literature, In the Garden of
Papa Santuzzu utilizes a postmodern structure that presents stories within
stories from a constantly changing first person narrative. According to Ardizzone,
the multiplicity of voices allows for different views or perspectives which brings
the reader closer to the "truth" of the immigrant experience. Some readers may find
difficulty in keeping track of the various characters and in perceiving the
metaphorical device that unifies the book. For those so handicapped, the quality of
the prose more than compensates for the confusion.
"Zi'Assunta crouched between my mother's legs, kneading [my mother's] belly,
coaxing out the birth sack, crooning a soothing song, while one child fed noisily at
her swollen breast, and another lay silent and dead in a pan at her feet, fists
raised, fighting the invisible and terrible air." Wow. Or this little jewel -- "Her
mouth gaped wide as she vomited out onto the floor a snake and seven scorpions,
which scuttled at the baboon's feet and then climbed up the legs of his black
britches and beneath his white blouse to the flesh covering what would have been his
heart, if he had one."
Ardizzone spent close to six years writing and researching In the Garden of
Papa Santuzzu. The labor is especially apparent in the historical erudition the
author brings to the novel: the labor strikes; the cacophony of Ellis Island; the
tale of the Black Madonna, arguably the most powerful chapter in the book; Mother
Cabrini and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Likewise, the book is a
veritable encyclopedia of adages and maxims: The hen's unseen eggs are never stolen;
truth and beauty rarely dance to the same tune; the donkey gnaws on the dead vine,
remembering the time when it was green; our children are not our relatives, they are
the guts from our womb.
In many respects Ardizzone's latest achievement is a paean not only to the
struggles of the Italian immigrant in a faraway land but to the power of stories to
keep memory burning bright. "Tell them your stories, my children, so you become
alive inside their hearts, and so that all the workers here may be saved." In the
Garden of Papa Santuzzu does its part to keep the flame of yesterday flickering
high on the eve of the new millennium.