Book Excerpt: ‘La Tragedia: An Italian Immigrant’s Quest for Justice’

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In a strange twist, this year of no travel has given me the opportunity to try new things on the blog and go deeper with my knowledge of Italy and the Italian experience. I have been writing more about books and getting a great response from readers — thanks!

That said, I am delighted to publish the following excerpt from Elissa DeNunzio’s book La Tragedia: An Italian Immigrant’s Quest for Justice. The book is based on a true story.

Here’s the synopsis:

After settling in the bedroom community of New Rochelle, New York, tragedy strikes. Filomena, a homemaker is accused of interfering in the marriage between Maria Grillo, a 17-year-old girl recently arrived from Italy and Michael Costa. Michael and his family accuse Filomena of using the evil eye to turn Maria against him and destroy his engagement. Threats and menacing letters follow and she begins to carry a gun. Filomena, out searching for the jilted lover, shoots and kills his father. Was it cold-blooded murder or self-defense? She is jailed and charged with first-degree murder. Will she be the first woman to be sent to the electric chair in 25 years or will the love of her family help to acquit her?

The author has been kind enough to share an excerpt from the first chapter, which follows after the image below. La Tragedia: An Italian Immigrant’s Quest for Justice is available on Amazon.

The early morning fog had lifted. There was an astringent smell of burning leaves in the air as Filomena Lombardo took her usual route from her home on 21 Bonnefoy Place. Even though she took the same path most days today Filomena felt a sense of unease. She was wary. The chestnut tree branches were beginning to bow down with the weight of their bounty. Toward the basket factory, along 4th street, the scent of wet straw floated on the damp air.

It had been four months since the letters began to arrive. One by one. And Filomena’s mind was often distracted by them. Who would have thought that such innocent-looking envelopes could hold such poison? Her serenity, the daily harmony, ease of her life had been destroyed by those innocuous-looking envelopes. The letters inside made her dart around corners, look over her shoulder, second guess the crunching of leaves by blameless footsteps. Those letters had changed her life. They had made her carry a gun.

The letters were written on a two-cent paper-thin and flimsy. The blue ink from the fountain pen bled through the paper partially obscuring the words, but not the meaning. Filomena knew they were from the Costa family. This was their fifth dispatch. She recognized the large and disorderly handwriting of Michael, the older son. His parents, Teresa and Vincenzo, could neither read nor write. It had to be Michael. There was no other way these messages could have been written. Though Michael was the author of these communications, Filomena was convinced his parents were aware of the contents. Perhaps Teresa and Vincenzo were even co-authors.

At one time, Filomena had been close to the Costa family in Italy. They were no longer friends, even though they were second cousins and their families had resided in Francavilla for generations. A longstanding feud that began in Italy had somehow traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and followed them to America. The grudge had landed with them all, in New Rochelle. Filomena picked up the letter and turned it over in her hand. She inhaled its inky smell and almost wept as she slowly pulled the letter from the envelope. With a shaky hand, she read the letter that revealed another threat to destroy her life and world.

Then she opened the drawer of the wooden desk and placed the creased envelope alongside the other letters next to the long, reddish braid of hair. Cutting her lush hair into a modern ‘bob’ seemed so long ago now. The new hairstyle had been a symbol of emancipation when she arrived in America. How could this drawer, this repository of dreams, of desire for a new life become the receptacle for such vile letters that demeaned her character? She closed the drawer softly. And with that movement, she closed the door on a simpler time of innocence and youth.

Within forty-eight hours she would be charged with murder.

Last updated on August 28th, 2022

Post first published on December 10, 2020

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