Sicily, 1935: Sarina, a young woman with three children, gives up her young daughter Tina to her aunt Vittoria, who lives in a different town, with no apparent explanation. The child, just four, at first is intrigued by the move, which she believes to be a summer vacation, but slowly reality settles in and her journey into abandonment begins.
“Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing” is the chronicle of lost childhood, written with a tight, journalistic style, reminiscent of a diary; and of the diary it also has the structure, having 97 chapters that are but glimpses into particular events of Tina’s life from kindergarten to adolescence to her final trip to America at sixteen, as a promised bride. This division into small chapters, which normally would irritate the reader, is actually successful in portraying the developments of her life seen almost as snapshots or frames from a movie. I laud the author, Marianna Randazzo, for such an unusual choice.
The constant throughout the book is the feeling of being rejected and the deprivations that living with the aunt are every day’s norm. The arrival of the war certainly does not bring any more comforts and Tina realizes that her stay with Vittoria is a stable one. The aunt loves her deeply, just as she loved her mom Sarina, and uses every occasion to show her, so she is not shortchanged in that aspect, but the awareness of being left behind by her own family and the resentment of not knowing why, always double guessing the reasons behind such a dramatic move, permeate the book. The brutish attitude of Tina’s uncle, who constantly physically abuses his wife, adds even more to the internal struggle that Tina undergoes.
The war is also a protagonist and Ms. Randazzo does justice to the atmosphere that surrounds such events, introducing various episodes with charm and a perfect rhythm, allowing the reader to be aware of it without being distracted by the real tragedy of this story: the unexplained desertion of the child by her loving family.
The tragedy unfolds in a well-paced narration and it is both heart-wrenching and interesting, bringing images from a time gone by but not forgotten, a time when children had no rights and the world was upside down, a time that many did not survive and that left a mark on those who did.
Marianna Randazzo was able to capture the feelings that this little girl experienced in such a masterful way that at times one forgets that this is not an autobiography but a novel based on true events. The reader will live Tina’s struggles, experience her shattered expectations, her fears, her deep melancholy, her want for her family, and her disappointment at her American aunt in the first person thanks to the ability of the author to portray Tina’s emotions so vividly.
“Given Away, A Sicilian Upbringing” deserves the attention of the public for its accurate and sensitive description of the life of a child “given away” and seemingly forgotten for a long time. Obviously, the story is seen through the eyes of the victim and it is seen subjectively, but the author does not pretend to have all the answers to the reasons for the triggering of this tragedy; she does, however, offer all the information necessary for the readers to make their mind up on their own.