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 North, Suite 308-A, Fort Lee, NJ07024
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018