Review of Paper Fish by Tina De Rosa
Overview from www.goodreads.com: Set in Chicago during the 1940s and 1950s, this novel of Italian American life is populated by hardworking immigrants whose heroism lies in their quiet, sometimes tragic humanity. At the center of the novel is young Carmolina, who is torn between the bonds of the past and the pull of the future—a need for home and a yearning for independence. Carmolina’s own story is interwoven with the stories of her family: the memories and legends of her Grandmother Doria; the courtship tales of her father, a gentle policeman, and her mother, a lonely waitress; and the painful story of Doriana, her beautiful but silent sister. "Understated, lyrical and intensely imagistic, De Rosa’s tale of Italian ghetto life stands out from other immigrant narratives by virtue of its artistry."—Kirkus Reviews
My Review:Paper Fish is another book that I have wanted to read for a long time. In this case, a very long time. We're talking years. I was so excited when my friend and coworker presented me with this book as a gift, not knowing that I have been trying to find it for years.
I have to admit though then when I started reading; it was something of a letdown. It just wasn't what I was expecting. I couldn't tell you exactly what it was but I know that I was hoping for something less literary (as in literary fiction) and more like Adriana Trigiani's novels, something that was entertaining as well as educational. This was not it.
However, I kept at it. I had read rave reviews of this thing after all and after years of waiting I was determined to finish the thing. After all, it was only one hundred odd pages or so. It shouldn't be difficult, right?
And it wasn't. It did get better. True, it still wasn't what I'd hoped to get but really there were some great lines and the characters were intriguing. As promised on the back cover, this book does not give you stereotypical caricatures of Italian immigrants. These are real people and real people are flawed yet strangely beautiful, in this novel anyway.
Our story centers mostly on Carmolina, a young third generation, half-Italian, half-Lithuanian girl who grows up in an Italian neighborhood in Chicago during the 40's and 50's. However this story jumps around—a lot—and not just from character to character but we keep jumping back and forth in time. It got to the point that I wasn’t sure where or when we were much of the time and that was the primary reason for my frustration.
The other was that I had trouble figuring out Carmolina’s motivations. What was this story about? I am still not sure I know but I enjoyed it more when I paid more attention to the other characters such as Grandma Doria, Carmolina’s parents, and Doriana, her sister than I did when I focused exclusively on her.
I am not entirely sure if I should recommend it so I am going to recommend it only for those who like literary fiction and those that are looking for some Italian American characters that are true to life and yet retain elements of fantasy in their stories. I am just not sure that anyone else will have the patience to keep reading and that’s a shame.
Contains: some language, sexuality, disturbing images