Once upon a time in 1903, 12-year-old Diamante Mazzucco and his nine-year-old cousin Vita left their small village in Italy and traveled in the company of more than 2,000 other hopeful immigrants on the SS Republic to begin new lives in America. Vita, an impressively poignant and thoroughly entertaining novel by Italian author Melania Mazzucco, is their fascinating story. As they learn how to survive in an often strange and sometimes inhospitable culture, the two young immigrants whose story is based upon that of Mazzucco's own ancestors encounter powerful passions, unimaginable poverty and heartbreaking challenges. Throughout the erratic courses of their lives, Diamante and Vita join the millions of resourceful and resilient immigrants who have given America something of their souls, ideas, feelings and dreams. Diamante's experiences are both harrowing and humbling; even though he had ever since leaving the reassuring familiarity of Italy dared to dream of a different life, he ultimately believes himself to have been betrayed both by the dream and by America. While Vita's life in her new country is often no less traumatic and devastating than Diamante's, she learns to trust in what she thinks is the great lesson of the American experience: have an unshakeable faith in a better tomorrow.
This uniquely crafted work is a modern woman's attempt to rediscover the nearly invisible historical tracks left by two children whose legendary experiences, failures and successes have left an indelible impression on subsequent generations of the Mazzucco family. Vita was awarded the Strega Prize in 2003, Italy's leading literary award. Now American readers (so many of whom have families who also shared in the great American immigrant experience) have an opportunity to enjoy this powerful portrait of Diamante, Vita and America a sweeping saga of hope and disappointment, love and loss, and endurance and success in the face of staggering odds. Tim Davis teaches literature at the University of West Florida.