FIERY FIELDS
Mary Carchio Anconetani


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Awe-Struck E-Books, July 2003
July 2003 Review by Joy Calderwood

New York, 1909

Teresa is leaving plague- and famine-wracked Italy for wealthy America: thatís the good part. She has to join her brutal husband in the West Virginia coal fields: thatís the unacceptable part. Then, Fate frees her to start a new life in New York City. Teresa, with a new name and no ties, is equipped by talent and beauty to make the best of the opportunity.

Violetta, as she is now known, starts on the bottom rung of the ladder, sewing in a sweatshop. Hew new friend Rosa, who does make it to the coal fields of West Virginia, is also experiencing the lowest levels of life for an Italian immigrant worker. From their stories, readers can gain a new understanding of the exploitations and prejudices which historically contributed to strikes and the occasional violent revolutionary. But in the main, Violetta and her friends do the best they can with what they are given, and grant respect to the values they were born to.

Where Violettaís life stands out from the rest of the women in her situation, is in her ability to associate on equal terms with the successful people she meets. People thought the child Teresa had been "putting on airs"; now the upwardly-mobile Violetta is seen to have a graceful elegance which wins respect and helps her social rise. It also makes her irresistible to more than one man who would be happy to improve her station by marrying her. Violetta canít explain that she already has a brute of a husband. It seems an insoluble tangle.

Author Mary Carchio Anconetani seems so well acquainted with the Italian immigrant culture of the early 1900s, that she convinced me this story was built on her familyís oral traditions. I picture her sitting at her grandmother or great-grandmotherís knee, questioning her eagerly for every detail of "how it was then". From these stories she has created a charmingly visual tale. This makes it the more surprising when, after almost a whole book of the most believable authenticity, FIERY FIELDS suddenly descends into the most unbelievable melodrama in the final chapters. It seems as if a different person took over the manuscript: I thought perhaps it had been hijacked by one of the uni-dimensional villains who run rampant through the script without warning. The author will probably tell me things like this did happen. Yes, Iím sure they did, but hardly ever, and not all to the same person, much less all at the same time.

Ignoring the final chapters for the moment, FIERY FIELDS is a pretty, yearning romance with a handsome, devoted romantic lead and seemingly unbeatable obstacles. Alongside the romance there is social observation of the Italian immigrant culture, giving the story substance. These are good enough for me to hope the author will rethink the last part and give us a new version, one in tune with the rest of the book.

 

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