A captivating debut novel about the tangled fates of two best friends and daughters of the Italian mafia, and a coming-of-age story of twentieth-century Brooklyn itself.
Two daughters. Two families. One inescapable fate.
Sofia Colicchio is a free spirit, loud and untamed. Antonia Russo is thoughtful, ever observing the world around her. Best friends since birth, they live in the shadow of their fathers’ unspoken community: the Family. Sunday dinners gather them each week to feast, discuss business, and renew the intoxicating bond borne of blood and love. But the disappearance of Antonia’s father drives a whisper-thin wedge between the girls as they grow into women, wives, mothers, and leaders. And as they push against the boundaries of society’s expectations and fight to preserve their complex but life-sustaining friendship, one fateful night their loyalty to each other and the Family will be tested.
I loved the way Naomi Krupitsky embedded me emotionally into the heart of Sofia and Antonia’s world, two little girls belonging to two Italian immigrant families. However, the term ‘family’ has two meanings in this community: your immediate family, or that you are a family with connections. Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo, live in side by side apartments and are best friends. Of course it was pre-ordained that they’d be best friends, because their fathers work together and their mothers were pregnant together. We join them at an innocent time in their lives and they’re both oblivious about what their fathers do, even if they do notice their mother’s tension and even tears when their fathers work late. Sofia and Antonia are focused on playing together, making each other laugh by making up silly games. By bringing the reader into their lives at this age we feel their innocence, and I found myself thinking about my girls and other young family members. I felt bonded to these girls and immediately felt a strong sense of foreboding. What fate might their parents have wrought on these girls?
They have been enough for each other and haven’t needed a wider group of friends, but when they start school that they notice that they are treated differently. On the first day they make friends with two other little girls from the neighbourhood and run towards their mothers at the school gates holding hands with their new playmates. Next day they’re excited to see their new friends again and are surprised when they don’t reciprocate, pointedly joining different girls at lunchtime. It seems that mothers will warn their sons and daughters to stay away from Antonia and Sofia and gossip about their fathers. However, the girls are mostly innocent to the to the world they live in. They don’t know that in 1920s New York City ‘The Family’ and their influence spreads far and wide. They know that on Sundays they have to join other families for lunch with their father’s boss in his huge Manhattan apartment. These children play with them and they’re told to call the men ‘Uncle’, but these people are not blood family, no matter what they call them. The truth shatters their lives one day when Antonia’s father goes missing and his body is never found. Of course the girls don’t understand what the adults know; the reason for the sudden fracture between the Russos and the Colicchios. Of course the truth does come out over the following years, but will the two girls struggle to keep that friendship?
As she turns into a woman, Antonia becomes reserved and sees a different life for herself. She can’t live with the people she knows were responsible for her father’s death. Her mother doesn’t recover from the trauma and as a result Antonia lives a very lonely life. This absence of parental support allows Antonia to slip away from reality into the worlds of her books. She wants to go to university and be someone other than herself. However, not even the loss of her father and the warnings of her mother can stop her heart being won by a Family man. It is love that takes her back to where she comes from. As for Sofia, she never left. She is in awe of The Family and has grown up bold and ambitious. Sofia seems fated to make dangerous, reckless, decisions. Their friendship is distant at times, eroded by the past, but it never seems to break. Underneath the trauma and complicated history, inside these women are two little girls who swore friendship and loyalty to each other. What they have is like a marriage, a promise to always be there even when life’s at it’s toughest. Perhaps it’s an even stronger bond than that. I love how this is a family drama, with the tensions all families have, but the author concentrates on that very specific tension between mother and daughter. Then there’s that outer layer of family, applying yet more pressure and creating a massive fissure between these girls born into something they never asked for. The Mafia is not open to everyone, but once you’re in that’s it. This is family with extra power and benefits, but with a sense of fear that always keeps you looking over your shoulder. With power comes terrifying risks and the knowledge there’s only one way to leave.
This is unlike any other Mafia story I’ve ever read because it concentrates on what it’s like to be female in this most macho of worlds. Here the gender roles are predetermined due to the time period and the set rules of the organisation. It’s a coming-of-age novel where these two girls are always going to be chafing against the confines of the roles the Family will allow. As the story moves from the 1920’s into 1940’s and WW2, we can see how Antonia and Sofia change from young girls to women, but also how society’s expectations of women change in that time period. Krupitsky also writes a realistic portrait of how the Mafia changed during the war. This historical detail and the character of Saul made me think about people fleeing Europe who bring with them their own strong sense of identity. Can they identity survive in a new place, where the opportunities may not always be the escape they were looking for? This made me think of my late husband’s family who ended up displaced separately, affected by their loss and wanting to grow up honouring their heritage, but finding themselves shaped by the society they’ve joined too. I felt so involved in these girl’s lives and the organisation they’ve grown up in, schooled in the essentials of staying loyal and keeping secrets. It was strange to leave their world and I wonder if there will be more from Antonia and Sofia in the future. This is a great Mafia novel, one that sets the organisation in social and historical context, but also gives us a rare female perspective on growing up as a mob daughter.
Meet The Author
Naomi Krupitsky attended NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and is an assistant editor at the Vida Review and a bookseller at Black Bird Bookstore. She lives in San Francisco
but calls many places home. The Family is her first novel.