The Power of Allegiances: Identity, Culture, and Representational Strategies


197 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55071-029-X
DDC C813'.5409'8






Reviewed by Peter Babiak

Peter Babiak teaches English at the University of British Columbia.


The premise of Tuzi’s study is that ethnicity is not a static concept,
as it is understood in modern thinking; on the contrary, in postmodern
fashion he examines the “multiplicity, ambi-guity and open-endedness
of identity formation” as represented in six Italian Canadian
fictional works.

For all its impassioned rhetoric, postmodern literary criticism often
collapses into a dead-end celebration of paradox. Tuzi’s study is no
exception. Though he assumes a continuity between literature and real
life, at times he so overstates the importance of textual strategies to
the experiences of Italian Canadians that these experiences become
incomprehensible. For example, in his reading of Frank Paci’s novel
Black Madonna (1982), Tuzi interprets one image—a brick pyramid the
protagonist builds in his parents’ backyard—as epitomizing “the
importance of cultural and familial continuity” and “the
transitoriness of Italian immigrant culture.”

This obsession with paradox has less to do with the novels Tuzi
analyzes than with the breathtakingly equivocal vocabulary he uses.
“Inexactness,” “unsettledness” and “conflictedness may be good
descriptions for metaphors in literary texts, but when used as markers
of ethnicity their purported social meanings are obscured. Thus, Nino
Ricci’s novel Lives of the Saints (1990) is, in Tuzi’s reading, a
celebration of “the terrible in-betweenness” of its protagonist’s
existence. Similarly, the women characters in Caterina Edwards’s The
Lion’s Mouth (1982) “unwittingly facilitate and vigorously
subvert” patriarchal Italian culture.

These may be sophisticated points of analysis, but how are they to be
understood within the sometimes monotonous simplicity of real life? To
be fair, this book is about “representational strategies,” not
social strategies: Tuzi accepts the postmodernist belief that literature
enjoys “relative autonomy” from is social contexts, an assumption
which is rendered problematic when read alongside the idea that
ethnicity is “shaped by a given social context.”

Most prominent among the strengths of this book is the prefatory list
of formal strategies—irony, elegy, imagery, etc.—which lays out the
methodology the author uses in his readings. More importantly, Tuzi has
made a contribution to the study of Italian Canadian literature, which
he acknowledges is “still largely in its developmental stages.”


Tuzi, Marino., “The Power of Allegiances: Identity, Culture, and Representational Strategies,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 16, 2024,