Coming from Turrivalignani

Sometimes readers tell me of their ancestors who came to America in Irma’s time but for any number of possible reasons could not or would not share this experience with their families. In those cases, if reading Irma’s story helps visualize that ancestor’s journey, I’m happy. Sometimes the “coming over” story has been told, re-told and treasured. At readings, I am sometimes shown photographs of grandparents or great-grandparents before the crossing, on boats, or freshly in America. I heard of one grandmother, Swedish I believe, who came as a seamstress like Irma and entered the medical field in Chicago like Irma. There’s a shiver of pleasure then, that my fiction mirrors a reality.
The other night I met by phone with the reading group Book Babes from Northern California. A colleague commented when I announced my coming “meeting”: “If this isn’t one fantastic group of women, then it’s a waste of a great name.” Suffice it to say, the great name wasn’t wasted. We had a lively conversation about the book and writing processes and our immigrant ancestors. I am privileged to share this photograph sent by one of the Book Babes, Toni, whose seamstress grandmother came from Turrivalignani, Abruzzo in the early 1900’s and often told stories of her village, including how she felt like a stranger when her father’s death brought her briefly home. Here we see her with her husband and his three children from an earlier marriage. His wife did not survive the birth of the little girl that Toni’s grandmother holds in her lap. At first her husband let it be known that he was marrying “down,” but he soon came to love his seamstress wife very much. Look in her eyes and you will see a woman of courage and grace. Perhaps Toni will write her grandmother’s story one day.

Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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Workshop on Point of View for the Knoxville Writers Guild, Sat. Feb. 18, 2017, 10am to noon

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“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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