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Book Bag


By Christopher Castellani

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill


Boston writer Christopher Castellani has examined the Italian-American experience in two previous novels about the Grasso family, beginning with the immigrants Antonio and Maddelena and now moving on to their children, Prima and Frankie.

As “All This Talk of Love” opens, Frankie, an aspiring literary scholar, is struggling to finish his ever-expanding dissertation, while his older sister Prima lives a comfortable life as a stay-at-home mom in a Delaware suburb. The restaurant Antonio opened, Al Di Là, has become a success, and Antonio is ready to hand it off — but to whom? Maddelena, sadly, appears to be in the beginning shades of dementia.

Prima, who has been raised on tales of the old country, is concerned about her aging parents, so she hits on the idea of taking a family trip back to her parents’ ancestral village in Italy. Neither mother nor father has been back there since arriving in America 50 years ago, and Maddelena in particular has always felt a need to keep the past in the past.

But Prima also hopes to reunite Maddelena with her estranged sister — and then fate intervenes in a way that compels the Grassos to travel to Italy and confront unanswered questions and secrets, especially about the family’s now-dead first son.

The New York Times Book Review has made “All This Talk of Love” an Editor’s Choice, writing last month that the book has “elegantly captured” some of the dilemmas of the Italian-American experience: “Feeling oneself ‘at the end of something,’ this slyly ambitious novel suggests, may well be the existential condition of being Italian-American.”


By Julie Wu

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill


In another view of the American immigrant experience, Julie Wu’s debut novel, “The Third Son,” tells the story of Saburo, the least-favored son of a Taiwanese politician, who will eventually make his way to the United States, and for whom nothing will come easily.

The novel opens in 1943, when Taiwan, occupied by the Japanese during World War II, undergoes an Allied bombing raid. Eight-year-old Saburo — taunted and abused at home — runs through a forest to find cover. There he meets Yoshiko, a young girl who in describing her own loving family gives Saburo a vision of how things might be, as well as a moment he can never forget. He will search for Yoshiko again for years afterward, only to find her by the side of his oldest brother and greatest rival.

As life in Taiwan gets increasingly intense in the post-war years, with the Chinese Nationalist Army laying claim to the country and autocratic rulers coming and going, Saburo will head to the United States and try to make a living in the aerospace industry in California, bringing about a whole new series of challenges as he tries to reunite with his family.

Wu, who lives in Boston, modeled her book on the real-life story of her father, a Taiwanese immigrant who struggled to make a life for himself in the United States.

Christopher Castellani and Julie Wu will read from and sign copies of their books Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley.
The event requires purchase of one of the books or
a $5 ticket.

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