Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: Old World Daughter, New World Mother by Maria Laurino

I have a soft spot for books dealing with the immigrant experience. I like reading about second and third generations and the methods they face in assimilation. Cultures that seem to have had success holding onto their traditions and beliefs even after crossing an ocean fascinate me. And I'm not too far removed from the Italian portion of my family (even if my grandmother did use Velveeta in her lasagne). So this book should have been a slam dunk for me. Can you hear the "But..." in the previous sentence? Because it is there and unfortunately it looms large.

I went into this collection of essays believing that I would be reading anecdotes about Laurino's Italian family, especially her mother, and the ways in which hyphenation (Italian-American) both complicated and enriched her life. And there was some of that, but only a very small amount. Instead the bulk of the essays dealt with the ways in which she as a woman navigated the old world ideas under which she was raised and the new world ideals surrounding her adulthood. The essays are very politicized, feminist focused writings on the balance between work and family. So for someone looking for a memoir, a mother-daughter ode, an entertaining cultural fiesta (sorry, I'm enough removed from my Italian roots I can't come up with an approrpiate Italian term instead), this was not the book to read.

Laurino does posit the interesting idea that her mother's life was not unfulfilling simply because she followed the traditional pattern, that our concept of dependence is unneccesarily negative, and that the idea of independence can be isolating. But a little of this discussion goes a long way for me. I was unfortunately disappointed by what this book wasn't and bored by the extended discussion of feminism and its roots and relationship to traditional old world gender roles. For the more politically and sociologically inclined who aren't expecting as much a memoir as I was, this will probably be of more interest than it was to me.

I received a copy of this book free for review purposes.

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