Book Review: At Home in the New World, by Maria Terrone

Book Review: <i>At Home in the New World</i>, by Maria Terrone
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In her collection of essays, At Home in the New World, Maria Terrone explores the world through the lens of an Italian-American New Yorker.

This is a fascinating collection of essays, driven mostly by Terrone’s sense of wonderment and curiosity about the world around her. She groups the collection into five sections, but they are loose groupings and the stories she tells transcend any real attempt to categorise them as they weave through the fabric of Terrone’s life, and her experiences and impressions of the world around her.

From stifling subway rides to lunchtime escapism in a shoe shop, through her first trip to Sicily and a glorious love letter to a golden shawl bought on her Spanish honeymoon, Terrone has the power to pick the reader up and transplant them into her world. Her prose is skilled, shifting between light and dark but always with the power to make even the most mundane activities seem magical. A big part of the beauty of this collection for me is that each essay is so very carefully crafted; there isn’t an unnecessary word in them and each one matters.

War is a thread that runs quite heavily through this collection. In one essay she writes about her brother’s lifelong obsession with guns and the military (an obsession Terrone herself can’t understand) and how at fifty years old he began work as a part-time police officer. In another she talks of her experiences working over the summers of 1967 and 1968 in the Veterans’ Administration, transcribing the psychiatrists’ reports of veterans’ therapy sessions against the backdrop of the escalation of the war in Vietnam and the anti-war protests. Elsewhere she weaves in her own father’s experiences in WWII and a chance meeting on a train with a British veteran, Fergus, with whom she strikes up a lifelong friendship.

Identity and family are also important themes in the collection, and Terrone often comes back to what it means to be an Italian-American. The immigrant experience is writ large throughout, and is an underpinning theme in many of the essays. As she marries and takes on her husband’s surname she also shortens her first name, emerging newly confident only to discover that “Terrone” is a word used by Northern Italians as an insult to Southern Italians. This leads Terrone on a journey not only to find out more about her own Southern Italian family but about the often-supressed history of the region. As she says in the last essay in the collection: “This is what immigrants are born to do: face both forward and back, like Janus, one of our many Roman gods.”

It’s impossible to pick a favourite from the collection. As I worked my way through, each one became my favourite only to be supplanted by the next and there is something here that will appeal to almost every reader. It really is a lovely collection that deserves to be read and savoured time and again.

At Home in the New World is out now from Bordighera Press.

Jane Wright

About Jane Wright

Jane Wright is a web editor, writer and photographer. Her short fiction has been published by Litro, Sirens Call Publications, Crooked Cat, Mother's Milk Books and Popshot Magazine. She lives and works in Manchester.

Jane Wright is a web editor, writer and photographer. Her short fiction has been published by Litro, Sirens Call Publications, Crooked Cat, Mother's Milk Books and Popshot Magazine. She lives and works in Manchester.

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