16 January 2015

Review #125: Forty Years in a Day by Mona Rodriguez and Dianne Vigorito

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.”

----Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, an English author and journalist

Mona Rodriguez and Dianne Vigorito, the two American cousin sisters, enchanted and deeply moved our hearts with their debut novel, Forty Years in a Day that revolves around a best-kept-hidden-family secret and how its revelation disrupts lives from generation after generation.

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.

The thirty-sixth president of The United States of American, Lyndon Baines Johnson, had once quoted very remarkable about "immigrants":
“The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources--because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.”

And this is the one thing that I love most about America. Anyways, this is not a story about immigration and the boons of it, instead the story revolves around a family which have immigrated to New York from Italy along with a baggage full of hidden family secrets. Inspired from her very own family sage and the pains of immigrating to another new country, Mona Rodriguez along with her cousin sis, Dianne Vigorito, spun this devastatingly beautiful family saga through various generations. This is a story that provokes us to see the story of our ancestors from their eyes, and that's what Mona and Diane did with theirs!

This is the story of Vincenzo Montanaro narrating his own life story to his daughter Clare of how he immigrated to America on the year 1900 from Italy, and how the mistakes of their family secrets ruined few lives and how blood relations are really not thicker enough to hold them together, till the period of Great Depression in America!

Both Diane and Mona excelled over one another in every possible way from narrative style to writing style to story-telling. This story is set across the city of New York and the authors take us on their time-machine to show us what New York was like back in the 1900s and surprisingly, we get a striking taste of the old New York, felt more like taking a trip down to the memory lane on the streets of NYC.

In the story, this particular Italian immigrant family felt that America was the land of hopes, dreams and endless opportunities, but soon their thoughts shattered when they the hard reality of life struck this family, and thus begins their struggle to keep the Montanaro family afloat amidst of poverty, gang warfare, difficulties in getting education for an immigrant child, heath industry, labor, gambling, kidnappings, murder etc.

Told from Vincenzo's perspective, we move along with the rhythm of his forty years of family saga. It was overall an emotional roller-coaster ride for me, that enraptured me with the deepest pain felt by the Montanaro family, and that's why I said that the book is devastatingly beautiful. Moreover, I could feel what my ancestor went through when to immigrated from East Pakistan back in those times when there was so much rage and anger lurking in the air. The author have brilliantly featured their struggle for education, employment and health brilliantly in this story, and their evocative narrative style kept me glued till the very end. Also not only this, there are lot of twists and turns that changes the fate of the Montanaro family that enlightens us with the fact that it is very much necessary to pass on any family secrets from one generation to another, to avoid conflicts among their own blood. Moreover, the authors narrated the story with a compassionate and sensitive voice, thus provoking our thoughts about the issues and the struggles faced by the Montanaro family.

Now about the characters- there is a vast pool of different types of characters, and I agree to the fact that there was not much enough space for each of the important characters to be featured in the story, thus this is where the only flaw of the book lies. All the characters in this book hold an important role to play and if this is a family saga, then the characters must be very intricately detailed, since with a hazy sketch of their demeanor, we will not fall for them, moreover, we won't capture their value in this story. So that is what was lacking from all the characters- depth! The story moved in a fast pace, thus leaving us out to understand completely with the characters' own lives and struggles.

In a nutshell, I would like to say the plot is exceptionally fantastic, and the author not only takes us back in time and era, but also takes us to our favorite city in the world- New York and they have captured New York very vividly with their exquisite words and visual way of story-telling!

Verdict: A thought-provoking family saga set in New York in the 1900s, which is so good that it will pull you into its deepest core of pain, love and grief!

Courtesy: Thanks to both the authors, Mona Rodriguez and Dianne Vigorito, for giving me this opportunity to read and review their debut novel. 

Authors' Info:
Mona Rodriguez and Dianne Vigorito are cousins. 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 and Dianne strongly believe there is tremendous knowledge to be gained from those who are older and wiser, a resource precariously looming at everyone’s fingertips.
Mona and Dianne live with their husbands in New Jersey and they each have two grown sons. This is their first novel together.
Visit them here 

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  1. Thank you, Aditi, for your thoughtful and lovely review! I agree that our story reignites that curiosity and admiration for what our ancestors had endured and accomplished to make our lives better.

    1. Hi, thank you so much for your comment! I'm really glad that you liked my review. And thank you for your kind words! :-) It was absolutely my pleasure and honor to read your amazing book!


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