Three generations of closely knit Italian families are depicted in Adria Bernardi’s novel, Openwork. She has woven a story of the experience of the Italian immigrant in the barren desert and coal mines of New Mexico, and of those who remain behind in the homeland and mountains of Tuscany, Italy.
The fabric of the generations is stretched and pulled, much like the “open work” stitches that were uniquely worked by Imola, one of the main characters. We are given a tapestry of time, mother, children, grandchildren, and others who interweave within the lives of Imola, her brother Egidio, their friend Antenorre.
The assimilation of the Italians in the American west, and the attempts by Antenorre to help the miners understand the pitfalls of their existence is written with insight. The realizations and dreams of the immigrants, whether they are realistic or exaggerations of the mind, are also written with sensitivity. The reality of life in America is not what they thought it would be, once they landed on American soil. The land of opportunity is more inopportune than they imagined. Golden dreams turn to harsh reality.
The horrendous hours and adverse working conditions in the mining industry are brought to life. The mining industry held the workers captive within its realm. Little known facts about Italian immigrants is enhanced through Bernardis writing. Nothing is left unturned in that respect.
We are witness to those left behind, and how they struggle to survive within their own villages. We watch them wait for a sign from America, holding their breaths for word of their relatives, through postcards bought through the mine company, and often times written by someone else, before being mailed. We see them wither away, emotionally, unable to cope with loss of family, loss of children moving on to make a life for themselves. The tapestry of life unravels within the pages of Openwork, and the stitches are stretched thin.
The craft of Openwork is a metaphor for life’s tapestries. If you want to learn more about the Italian immigrant experience in the southwest, I recommend Openwork, for its insightful documentation and vivid imagery.