4 out of 4 stars
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Fifteen-year-old Angelina Pirrello comes from a family of Sicilian immigrants who settled in Florida in the early years of the 1900s. When her beloved mother succumbs to childbirth complications, she is left alone to care for her younger siblings and help her father Domenico, a stubborn man who is deeply rooted in Sicilian traditions. Domenico came to America with no money and worked hard to open a successful Italian grocery store. Much like her father, Angelina has a strong, determined, and stubborn personality. A lover of learning and books, Angelina has to comply with Domenico’s demands to leave school and join her uncle Pasquale as a worker in a cigar factory. Angelina reluctantly submits to her father, but when he starts arranging her marriage, she understands that she needs to stand up for herself and her freedom.
The Weight of Salt by Sandra Montanino is a poignant novel that I savored slowly, following Angelina’s growth page after page. As a Southern Italian, I deeply appreciated the author’s nuanced accounts of Sicilian culture. The book perfectly captures its contradictions: it can embrace you with warmth and suffocate you with control, reward you with comfort and frustrate you with impossible expectations. Sicilian culture is almost a character in itself as its strong influence on the characters’ lives becomes palpable. The ghosts of the Old Country come back to haunt Domenico and bring memories of hunger and poverty. Angelina is constantly torn between her love for her father and his attachment to traditions and her own aspirations of freedom and independence. In this novel, Sandra Montanino perfectly captures the gray area of living in America while carrying the crushing weight of the expectations imposed by Sicilian culture.
The character development in this book is exceptional. The author makes it easy for the reader to feel empathy toward the characters and understand their decisions. I found it natural to empathize with Angelina and the exhausting frustration she felt about dealing with a controlling Sicilian father. However, I also understood Domenico and his determination to do everything it takes to spare his daughter from experiencing the poverty and humiliations he had to face. My favorite character is Pasquale, Domenico’s brother. I loved how the author mixed his funny jokes, broken English, and the way he looks out for Angelina to create a tender-hearted and wholesome character. Pasquale is also the source of precious gems of advice rooted in Sicilian wisdom:
I only came across a handful of minor, non-distracting errors. The Weight of Salt is professionally edited and free of profanity. The author sprinkles Italian phrases here and there, but she always provides adequate context so that nonspeakers can easily understand them.“Bricks is strong, Angelina, better than gold. Bricks gonna last one hundred years. Gold, she’s too soft, and everybody wanna steal it. Nobody gonna steal a brick.”
There is absolutely nothing in The Weight of Salt that I disliked. It is an exquisitely-written story with well-rounded characters that will keep readers glued to its pages from start to finish. I rate this book four out of four stars. I recommend it to fiction lovers, and especially to readers who enjoy stories that are centered on the experiences of immigrants.
The Weight of Salt
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