Contrasts: Comparative Essays on Italian Canadian Writing
Contains Bibliography, Index
Ellen Pilon is a library assistant in the Patrick Power Library at Saint
Mary’s University in Halifax.
Contrasts studies the work of Italian-Canadian writers publishing in English, French, and Italian. Written in English (two of the essays have been translated, presumably from French), the ten contributions are by “significant young writers”: Joseph Pivato (the editor), F.G. Paci, C.D. Minni, Roberta Sciff-Zamaro, Alexandre Amprimoz, Sante Viselli, Robert Billings, Fulvio Caccia, Filippo Salvatore, and Antonio D’Alfonso (the publisher).
In his introduction, Pivato explains that the book aims to discuss Italian-Canadian literature in the context of world literature because Italian-Canadian writing is in three languages and is influenced by the literature of these three cultures. A major theme of all the essays is immigration or dislocation, a universal human experience not limited to Italians in Canada. “Italian-Canadian writing has developed in a random manner with writers across the country working in isolation. It is all the more remarkable that we now find that these authors share many affinities that go beyond their Italian background.”
In the first essay, Pivato objects to the thematic approach to Canadian literature as too limiting. He offers a new definition of ethnic writing in Canada: “writing that is concerned with the meeting of two (or more) cultures in which one of the cultures is anglophone or francophone.” In his discussion of novelists’ tasks and reality, Paci offers a good brief overview of reality in modern literature. Minni’s somewhat superficial essay identifies immigrants in Canadian stories. Sciff-Zamaro has contributed a thorough archetypal interpretation of Paci’s Black Madonna. Amprimoz and Viselli discuss the poetry of Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, Len Gasparini, Mary Melfi, Fulvia Caccia, Mary di Michele, Marco Fraticelli, and Antonio D’Alfonso, quoting some poems whole and including lengthy close analysis of them. Billings writes about contemporary influences on the poetry of Mary di Michele (mostly Roo Borson, Susan Glickman, Bronwen Wallace, and Carolyn Smart). Caccia writes about the Italian writer’s choice of language and why. Pivato again writes about the Italian-Canadian writer in a state of exile. Salvatore and D’Alfonso consider Italian writers in Quebec.
Pivato has included a 14-page bibliography of Italian-Canadian writing in four parts: works in Italian, in English, in French, and some literary and historical studies. “Notes on Contributors” includes brief biographical sketches. A very useful “Index of Writers” concludes the volume, with references not only to the Italian writers but to all writers referred to in the text. Most of the essays are well written, with something to offer the student of Italian-Canadian literature. Indeed, the book as a whole is a good criticism of Canadian literature in general and should not be restricted to Italian literature studies alone.