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Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite
Weeds Beneath the Open Meadows, a memoir by Anna Casamento Arrigo, features memories and ruminations of her father who died when she was only twelve. But her recollections run deep and reveal not only her dad’s rugged Italian persona but those of close family members as well. But even deeper, she reveals her own childhood, thoughts, and feelings hidden by a joyous, often bewildered, and searching mind. Having grown up in the hamlet of Sorrentini, Sicily, she watched her dad, a big, exuberant and feared figurehead, (boxer’s hands) twice married—young Anna’s mother his second. Her dad, once a purveyor of vineyards and orchards there, moves his second family to New Jersey, his first brood already established in Jamestown, New York. Anna watches and learns—her mothers, brothers, the contrast of her new home with the world left behind with its hillsides, its gypsies, its rural citizenry, its often-cruel rituals, animals, and flowers. She recalls all this with intelligence, passion, and poetic grace.
Imagine being a child taken from such a rural place to the streets of Passaic, N.J. You must learn a new language, make new friends. But most importantly, you must learn the rules of an enigmatic dad who is now present most of the time, the jealousies and rivalries in the household, and the very hard work of making ends meet. I really felt young Anna’s mind and imagination working as she misses nothing that goes on around her. Her father, loving and rough, kind and cruel, gentle and autocratic, dies, and the climax of the memoir is his funeral and Anna’s reveries as the Catholic ritual plays out. I felt reality, humanity, joy, and horror—the real life of real people, presented in a stream of fabulous prose. Well, Anna’s best marks in school were in writing (in her new language), and that—her skill with transferring the ordinary into the deeply moving joy of simple truth—is what inspires me most about this memoir; the extraordinary beauty and awe of just being alive, the vast spectrum of its ups and downs. Do not miss this magnificently universal tribute to family, food, love, hope, and Ms. Arrigo's devotion to what is simply and magnificently true.