Devils in Paradise: Writings on Post-Emigrant Cultures


160 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55071-065-6
DDC 305.85'1071





Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.


In a book whose purpose is to elaborate a theory of “Italian writing
abroad,” Italian-born poet and translator Pasquale Verdicchio offers
readings of Italian North American “minority” writers. He
supplements these with readings of cultural theorists such as Antonio
Gramsci, filmmaker Spike Lee, and pop culture mainstays such as Madonna
and Super Mario Brothers cartoons.

Garden-variety literary criticism occupies only a small part of the
text. Chapter 2, which follows a scattered theoretical introduction,
offers abridged readings of Italian Canadian novelists Antonio
D’Alfonso and Caterina Edwards, and of Italian American authors Carole
Maso and Gilbert Sorrentino. Each author opposes romanticized categories
of national identity and standardized language by using
compositional/linguistic innovations such as polyphonic narration and
hybridizing English with Italian.

Verdicchio is at his best when writing about stereotypes in pop
culture. For example, the introduction of “Italian stallions”—the
male version of the dumb blonde—in sitcoms Friends and Wings falls in
line with caricatures of mafiosi, hoods, and rebels. The cartoon
characters Mario and Luigi in Nintendo’s Mario Brothers are often
viewed as cyber-explorers with an obsession for Italian food
(“mamma’s cooking”) rather than as the immigrants plumbers they
represent. Dumb hunks in the service of women, chunky plumbers
distracted by food—in both cases, the effect is to implant the idea
that Italian ethnicity is always sidetracked by external forces.

The author offers a nuanced reading of Italian stereotypes in Spike
Lee’s Do the Right Thing, which represents Italian immigrants as being
not totally dissimilar from African-Americans. That “Italians act
Black, and African Americans act Italian” in this film is an
intriguing argument, but a more sustained analysis is needed to fully
tease out the cinematographical and sociological implications of these

Verdicchio is careful not to exaggerate the importance of language
games to cultural practice. His statement that race and ethnicity “are
anything but secure categories” is qualified by the necessary caveat
that “their function is exactly one of security.”


Verdicchio, Pasquale., “Devils in Paradise: Writings on Post-Emigrant Cultures,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,