Friday, August 9, 2013

HFVBT: Forty Years in a Day by Mona Rodriguez/Dianne Vigorito--Guest Post and Review #FortyYearsTour

Living conditions/lives of immigrant families in Hell's Kitchen is the blog topic that was suggested to me for a blog tour. I immediately thought—that’s exactly what our book, Forty Years in a Day, is about. The story begins in 1900 and follows the incredible journey of a young mother and her four children as they escape from Italy into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Forty Years in a Day is layered with the struggles and successes of each family member and defines the character of an era. I believe the book answers the topic quite nicely so how much more could I share? As if it were fate, a friend sends me a link to a YouTube audio of her Aunt, Margaret Carlson, who is being interviewed by her daughter. This elderly woman, who has long since passed, had grown up in Hell’s Kitchen. She shares an amazing childhood memory that I think is the quintessential example of what living in Hell’s Kitchen was like. I would not be able to describe it with any more craft or poignancy than Mrs. Carlson; therefore, these are her exact words transcribed from Margaret Carlson's Memorial Video on YouTube.

I was born 1928. I was born in New York City—36th street and 11th Avenue. It was called Hell’s Kitchen. Bad neighborhood. On 11th Avenue there were railroad tracks and the freight trains use to go along the railroad tracks with the cows, and the pigs, and the sheep, and you could hear them all mooing. They were going to the slaughterhouse which was on 28th Street.

I guess I was about 5, and it was early on a Sunday morning, and I was running the streets on the other side of Eleventh Avenue, where I wasn’t supposed to be, but of course I was. Two men were laying on the street. We called them bottle babies. It was depressing days and there was no work for the men so the men use to hang out on the corner and get drunk. You know, they couldn’t afford food, but they could get drunk. And they were our fathers, we knew them. So these two men are sleeping, and one man gets up and he picked up a big cinderblock and he dropped it on the other man’s head. He looked at me, and I just raced right home. I raced up four flights of stairs. You always lived on the top floor cause it was cheaper.

I told my mother, “Mama, Mr. So and So hit Mr. So and So over the head with a brick.”

My mother said, “What’d did you say, Margie?”

“Mr. So and So hit Mr. So and So over the head with a brick.”

What a whack my mother gave me. She never hit us. My father’s hobby was hitting us.

My mother never hit us.
“What’d you see, Margie.”

I was crying. “Mr. So and So hit Mr. So and So over the head with a brick.”

She gave me another whack. I landed on the floor, and I’m laying there, and she said to me, “What’d you see, Margie?”

I looked, and I’m thinking to myself she’s going to hit me again. I sat up, and I said,

“I didn’t see nothin, Mama.”

She said, “That’s right, now go downstairs and play.”

That’s how I learned you don’t see nothin, you don’t know nothin.

So I get downstairs and there were lots, torn down buildings. Rubble. Empty lots we call them. And the lot was full of people. I was only little so I climb the rocks and I’m standin there and I’m lookin. The police have a man, blood all down his face, saying, “Did anybody see this? Does anybody know anything?”

The West side was nice, nobody’s there, all of a sudden people are coming out of the woodwork. Of course, nobody saw nothin. So I turn around to climb down the rocks and there is Mr. So and So staring straight at me, right behind me. I just ran home and that was the end of that. But like I said, I knew then—you didn’t see nothin and you don’t know nothin. That’s where I come from.

Thank you, Margaret Carlson, for your story and for reminding us to count our blessings.

My thoughts
Forty Years in a Day is a poignant story of a family's immigration to the United States just after the turn of the century. It surrounds the life of Victoria, who decides to take the enormous step to immigrate after enduring years of sorrow due to the neglect and pain of her failing marriage. Her words here indicate what many women have endured (I can certainly relate) and, as hard as it was, she was lucky to have escaped to America:

She needed him to be a man, yet he was acting like a child, and she had no energy left to coddle another. The friendship and love they had once shared had been irreparably tarnished by his escalating affliction. It was as if his hardened heart had sculpted his feelings into a mound of stone and offered no remorse.

Although a fictional account, based on the family histories of the authors, it was very easy to think of Victoria and her family as real people. These were people I cared about and the story kept me wanting to read to find out what becomes of these hard-working and persistent characters. I think perhaps the book could have been a bit longer, so as to flesh out the characters a bit more, but overall, the book tells a story that many will want to read.

With a surprise twist added to the mix, Forty Years in a Day is an unforgettable book and a testimony to the perseverance of the human spirit.

About the Book
Authors: Mona Rodriguez & Dianne Vigorito
Publication Date: February 19, 2013
Tate Publishing
Paperback; 388p
ISBN-10: 1621471381

Confession is good for the soul even after the soul has been claimed...

The story begins in Italy, 1900. After years of torment and neglect, Victoria and her four small children immigrate to Hell's Kitchen, New York, to escape her alcoholic, abusive husband. On the day they leave, he tragically dies, but she does not learn of his death for several years—a secret that puts many lives on hold.

Quickly, they realize America's streets are not paved with gold, and the limits of human faith and stamina are tested time and time again. Poverty, illness, death, kidnapping, and the reign of organized crime are just some of the crosses they bear.

Victoria's eldest son, Vincenzo, is the sole surviving member of the family and shares a gut-wrenching account of their lives with his daughter during a visit to Ellis Island on his ninetieth birthday. He explains how the lives of he and his siblings have been secretly intertwined with an infamous Irish mob boss and ends his unsettling disclosure with a monumental request that leaves Clare speechless.

Forty Years in a Day is layered with the struggles and successes of each family member and defines the character of an era. Follow the Montanaro family through several decades, and stand in the shoes of a past generation.

About the authors
Mona Rodriguez coauthored Forty Years in a Day with her cousin Dianne Vigorito. Throughout their lives, they had heard many stories from family members that were fascinating, sometimes even unbelievable, and decided to piece together the puzzle of tales. Through research and interviews, their goal was to create a fictional story that follows a family through several decades, providing the reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in search of their hopes and dreams. What they realize in the process is that human emotions have been the same throughout generations - the difference is how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.

Mona Rodriguez has her MS in environmental Management from Montclair State University. She is presently a trustee on the board of directors of a nonprofit foundation created to benefit a local public library and community. She lives with their husband in New Jersey, and they have two grown sons.

For more information, please visit the official website.

Visit other blogs on the tour--Tour Schedule
Twitter Hashtag: #FortyYearsTour

*A copy of this book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for providing it.


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Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. It means so much.

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  1. Such an interesting period of time that is so often closed over as this glorious period of immigration and so rarely laid bare for the tough life that it often was.

  2. I love immigration stories when they are told well. It's so hard to strike the right balance but it sounds like the authors managed to do it with this one. Thank you!

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