Umbertina: A Novel

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The Feminist Press at CUNY, Jan 1, 1998 - Fiction - 464 pages
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Publishers Weekly calls Helen Barolini's now-classic novel of immigration “an ambitious saga which spans the history and probes some of the tensions of the Italian American... Panoramic, descriptive and solidly crafted.” When the book was first published in 1979, the Philadelphia Inquirer called it "an important novel for these times. . . . Through a dazzling interplay of American and Italian characters in both countries, Helen Barolini delineates the major concerns of all thinking American ethnics." This is no less true today, as this republication restores Umbertina to a reading public newly attuned to the complexities of cultural inheritance and identity.

This multigenerational novel begins in Calabria, as Umbertina persuades her husband to emigrate. Through years of struggle on New York City’s Lower East Side and in a growing upstate New York town, it is Umbertina’s determination, ingenuity, and business sense that propel the family into financial success and security—leaving her daughters and granddaughters to sort out their identities as Italian Americans and as women.

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Umbertina: A Novel

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LJ's reviewer found this first novel a tad long but nonetheless "readable, perceptive, and rich in detail" (LJ 10/15/79). It tells the story of four generations of women, beginning in Italy in the 1860s and ending in the United States in the 1960s. This edition includes a scholarly afterword. Read full review


Umbertina 1860 1940
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Seven
Chapter TwentyOne
Chapter TwentyTwo
Chapter TwentyThree
Tina 1950
Chapter TwentyFour
Chapter TwentyFive
Chapter TwentySix
Chapter TwentySeven

Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Marguerite 1927 1973
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty
Chapter TwentyEight
Chapter TwentyNine
Chapter Thirty
Chapter ThirtyOne
Chapter ThirtyTwo
Chapter ThirtyThree
Chapter ThirtyFour
Chapter ThirtyFive
About the Author
About the Feminist Press
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About the author (1998)

Helen Barolini is a recipient of an American Book Award for The Dream Book: an Anthology of Italian American Women Writers. The Italian edition of her novel Umbertina was the recipient of a literary prize in Italy, the Premio Acerbi, in 2008. She is also the author of twelve published books, two unpublished novels, and many short stories and essays that have appeared in literary journals, anthologies and several annual editions of Best American Essays.

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