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Author Rosanna Chiofalo’s debut novel, “Bella Fortuna” takes place in the Astoria of her childhood. A warm tribute to her heritage, the book brings to life colorful scenes from her past as a first-generation Italian American daughter of Sicilian parents who emigrated to America in the 1960s.
“The strong sense of community and the hardworking people — many of whom were immigrants — instilled in me a strong work ethic, as well as made me the down-to-earth person I am today,” she says.
Chiofalo’s parents landed on Ellis Island in 1961, lived on the Lower East Side, then moved close to Astoria Park in 1970. Her father was a longshoreman, who worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and his travels around the world left her with a desire to travel. Mama stayed home and raised four children — Rosanna was the youngest.
Astoria’s familiar sights and sounds, and fictionalized local yokels, like neighborhood meddler and gossip Paulie Parlatone (“big talker” in Italian), also known as “Il Sindaco” or “the mayor of 35th street,” serve as a backdrop to Chiofalo’s evocative tale, as seen through the eyes of a charming, intelligent and courageous 30-something, Valentina DeLuca. Her quest for a knight in shining armor leads to a romantic adventure in scenic Venice, a moonlit gondola ride and a rendezvous at St. Mark’s Square.
In the book, Valentina says, “The streets are quietest on Sunday mornings, my favorite time to be walking through Astoria, the Queens neighborhood where I grew up and still live.”
Dreams of a Venice wedding lead Valentina to eventual loss and heartbreak. Meanwhile, she struggles with her parents’ — Olivia and Nicola — old world beliefs vs. her own, wondering about good vs. bad luck and controlling her destiny.
“Yes, it’s the start of a new year and finally I feel like this is going to be my year,” says Valentina. After designing and sewing wedding dresses for other lucky brides-to-be for so long, it will now be my turn to shine in the spotlight.”
The author’s maternal grandfather was a tailor who made men’s suits. “He taught my mother her seamstress skills and I was always in awe of her skills, so she was my inspiration for making Valentina and her family seamstresses in ‘Bella Fortuna,’” Chiofalo says.
Her own wedding planning is reflected in part of the book. “Valentina was inspired by my wanting to show how so many brides get caught up in having the ‘perfect’ wedding, when nothing in life is perfect, so it’s quite unrealistic.
“I met my husband, Ed Aponte, through my mother-in-law, at jury duty,” Chiofalo says. “No, he’s not Italian, but everyone thinks he is. His parents are actually from Puerto Rico.”
The reader gets a zesty, heartwarming glimpse of life with Valentina’s familia, as the Dickens-inspired author explores all the wonderful emotions and beliefs that make them tick: felicità (happiness), agita (grief of the worst kind), the dreaded malocchio (curse of the evil eye) and, of course, tons of amore.
“I was very close to my family — your typical city kid, who hung out on her front stoop, played hide-and-seek with the other kids on the block. I also read a lot,” says Chiofalo. “Holidays were a big deal in my house. My mother always baked sweet Easter bread for Easter and made other special desserts for the holidays. My father had a custom in which we played cards on Christmas Eve — more of a big deal in my family than Christmas Day.”
The author, who attended St. Joseph’s Parochial School, St. John’s Prep and worshiped at St. Joseph’s Church in Astoria, said she liked her nabe better when she was growing up there. “Many of the independent stores, especially the food markets, have gone out of business. Although there is a lot that’s great now, such as the many ethnically diverse restaurants, I feel like the community I grew up in is disappearing. It’s also become way too congested.”
In “Bella Fortuna,” Grandmother’s Cake isn’t a recipe passed down from one of the author’s grandmothers; it’s a popular dessert in Italy. Other recipes in the back of the book are from family members: Fried Meatballs, her mother’s recipe; Cinnamon Vanilla French Toast, her husband’s; Lemon Wedges in Olive Oil and Vinegar – Mama’s Sicilian recipe.
The author just completed her second novel, which will be published in September 2013. The first half of the book is set in Astoria; the latter half in Rome. “My editor and I are still trying to figure out the title. The novel is a sort of Italian ‘The Devil Wears Prada.’ That’s all I’ll say for now. You’ll have to wait and read it.”
Chiofalo is a freelance copywriter in book publishing. “Bella Fortuna” was published by Kensington Books.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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