Book Review: Return to Naples by Robert Zweig, Ph.D

Return to Naples - My Italian Bar Mitzvah and Other Discoveries by Robert Zweig PhD

Return to Naples – My Italian Bar Mitzvah and Other Discoveries by Robert Zweig PhD

I loved this book and its collection of carefully told memories. If you know Naples, or are curious about the city, this is an easy, fascinating read – a surprisingly gentle ride around a family and a city scarred by war.

The author, Robert Zweig, is an “American, of Italian, German and Jewish descent”, who spends his boyhood summers in Naples, the city where his mother was born and where most of her family remain. The long holidays of relatives, old palazzi, and difference are remembered vividly. The period is the 1960s into the early 1970s.

In the first half of the book Robert Zweig introduces us to his parents, and to their experience of the Second World War – a time of brutality and fear that eventually runs its course.

On his mother’s side …

“… the family had all survived, and Naples, with its bombed-out buildings and impoverished population, nevertheless offered hope of a peaceful future.”

However, she marries a German Holocaust survivor who cannot bear to stay in Europe. In 1946 the couple move to America, but manage to dilute the distance with summers in Naples.

We are shown the city through the lives of beggars, neighbours and relatives. We meet entrepreneurs and philosophers, stoicism and despair … and a fascination for the energetic endeavours of America.

“For Neapolitans there was a great range of opinions about the moon landing; men on the moon seemed impossible, not desirable, and the concept was barely believable.”

We dot between years …

Between 1955 and 1969 I made twenty-six transatlantic crossings by ship between New York and Naples.”

… and the characters and encounters through which the author shows us the ancient city and his own, growing self-awareness. Together we consider war, shopping, football, religion, sex, pride, and reasons to be dubious. It’s rich and original theatre …

“If it was worth a foreigner’s time to study English in order to read Shakespeare, or for an American to study Italian in order to read Dante, then it was worth studying Neapolitan in order to listen to Maria.”

… a gentle conversation with the heart of a place when it, like the author’s own family, was in recovery.


Return to Naples – My Italian Bar Mitzvah and Other Discoveries by Robert Zweig PhD
Published by Barricade Books Inc
185 Bridge Plaza NorthSuite 308-A, Fort Lee, NJ07024
ISBN 13:978-1-56980-351-6
ISBN 1-56980-351-X
Hardback US$23.95

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Return to Naples by Robert Zweig, Ph.D

  1. As the editor of Return to Naples, I wish to thank you for your gracious review of this book celebrating a unique time and place in the author’s life. Those of us in publishing are always grateful to learn that a book we’ve worked on has been met with such warmth and approval as your kind words indicate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for looking in on The Phraser. We spent two years close to Naples and I was lucky enough to have the time to explore the city a little. I loved it and learned from it, and know that there is still much to discover – this book was lovely to find as it opened the door on to a section of the community I had heard about but never bumped into. I am so pleased that books like this are still finding their way on to bookshelves – thank you for your part in this.


  2. What a faithful review Georgie. You have captured the charm of this book and Robert’s experience of Naples in his formative years so beautifully. . It truly is deserving of your words. I particularly enjoyed the quotes you chose, such as the worth of ‘learning Neapolitan in order to listen to Maria’. I was always struck by the proximity of such a young, fresh, open-minded, curious American boy colliding head-on with a hot, raw city bruised and healing after the war. Such a vast contrast but at the same time so uplifting that he experienced the city with such an inquisitive wonderment, when it could have so easily been told in a much darker light. Thank you for drawing your unique picture of this intimate experience. It is as real and true as the city it depicts. Grazie mille!


    • Glynis thank you so much – what a fantastic comment. Makes me think you should have written the review … I hope that perhaps you have somewhere! I loved the way Robert Zweig captured so many worlds in this book, drawing them together in Naples, a city so used to absorbing communities and hardship. He gave context to the way Neapolitans respond to the tragedy and hope of every day lives. Difficult to keep to a young voice, but it is a clever way to capture characters, and to show a city remembered. Thanks so much for getting the book to me.


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