Book Review By Jane Reid
In this haunting memoir, author Eufemia Fantetti takes readers on a wild ride through a childhood steeped in Southern Italian superstitions, family loyalty at all costs and the immigrant experience. Her story begins with tarot cards—a suitable medium for the fate that awaits Eufemia after her parent’s wedding day in 1965 in tradition-bound Bonefro, Italy. The arranged marriage between second cousins Michelantonio and Lucia, hastily organised by manipulative relatives, sets up a tragic life for both of them and, soon, their daughter as well.
After settling in an Ontario suburb, the family becomes overwhelmed by Lucia’s descent into severe mental illness. Eufemia takes readers down a rabbit hole of tumbling memories of her troubled childhood. Colourful dialogue enriches her stories and makes them come alive. “No make your life more hard than has to be,” says her father. Humour, often of the gallows sort, makes frequent welcome appearances.
Young Eufemia faces unpredictability every day, never knowing whether her mother will “stay anchored to reality” and for how long. Her father, loving and honourable, seems helpless to remove himself and his daughter from their chaotic existence as he works to achieve the Canadian dream of making a decent living, owning a home and providing an education for his daughter. Malocchio, the evil eye, is the trio’s constant companion.
The family spends time in Southern Italy, visiting relatives, hoping for a cure. Eufemia, cocooned in timeless village life, happily forms a loving and reliable relationship with her Nonna. But her mother does not improve with old or new Italian ideas. Nor does an official diagnosis help when they return to Canada. Eufemia eventually takes flight, leaving her home for university on the other side of this country. But family is family, and she returns to the cauldron, seeking new ways to make peace with her childhood and her parents. There is, she knows, “no obstinacy like Southern Italian stubborn.”
Eufemia attempts to deal with the effects of her childhood through the usual therapy channels, unsuccessfully. She seeks additional help through fascinating forays into tarot cards, fortune-tellers, palm-readers and astrology as she searches for a pattern, a plan, to navigate through her life. A deep love for her father and the written word remain lifelines for the author. As well as providing a captivating glimpse into what it means to be Italian, readers will also feel that writing this book has been part of Eufemia’s healing.
Jane Reid is a long-time Whistler resident who is passionate about local food and the written word. Her first book, “Freshly Picked: A Locavore’s Love Affair with BC’s Bounty”, was published in October 2018 by Caitlin Press.
Eufemia Fantetti will be appearing in the Writers of Non-Fiction reading event, Saturday October 19, 10-11:30 a.m. at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.