The year is 1905. The country is Italy. Fourteen-year-old Lucia and her young mother, Teresa, are servants in a magnificent villa on the Bay of Naples, where Teresa soothes their unhappy mistress with song. But volatile tempers force them to flee, exchanging their warm, gilded cage for the cold winds off Lake Erie and Cleveland’s restless immigrant quarters.
With a voice as soaring and varied as her moods, Teresa transforms herself into the Naples Nightingale on the vaudeville circuit. Clever and hardworking, Lucia blossoms in school until her mother’s demons return, fracturing Lucia’s dreams.
Yet Lucia is not alone in her struggle for a better life. All around her, friends and neighbors, new Americans, are demanding decent wages and working conditions. Lucia joins their battle, confronting risks and opportunities that will transform her and her world in ways she never imagined.
While the story Schoenewaldt paints is fiction, the heart of the story — the story of immigrants — is real and vivid. It is the story of people who, despite being ostracized, manage to carve out a life for themselves. They struggle and they most often succeed. You will not soon forget this thoughtful story, which really is the story of all of us. You will start to think about the stories of your ancestors and how they came to the United States; what they endured to carve out the life you live today. What did they leave behind?
As I shut the cover on Swimming in the Moon, I was brought to tears, as Lucia and Teresa truly touched my heart. I am a more informed reader because this book touched on themes of mental illness, care-giving, and the struggle for fair working conditions.
Pamela Schoenewaldt lived for ten years in a small townoutside Naples, Italy. She visited Opi, where her novel When We Were Strangers opens on cross-country skiing trips and was inspired by its solemn beauty, isolation and the reserved pride of its people. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines in England, France, Italy, and the U.S. Her play “Espresso con mia madre” (Espresso with My Mother) was produced at Teatro Cilea, Naples. Pamela Schoenewaldt taught writing at the University of Maryland, European Division, and at the University of Tennessee. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her husband, Maurizio Conti—a medical physicist, and their dog, Jesse—a philosopher.
This book review is included in a tour by TLC Book Tours. I received a copy of the book in return for an honest review, which you can read above. Want to know what others have to say about Swimming in the Moon? Stop by another blog on the tour!