Mining in America

Openwork, Adria Bernardi, 2007

Farmhouse in Castelnuovo Tuscany castelnuovo-farmhouse.jpg

Starting in the early 20th Century about three Italian friends from the Mountains North and West of Florence. The sister stays in Italy, marries, and has a family. The brother and friend migrate to America ending up in the coal mines of New Mexico and Colorado. Beautifully written with chapters told from the point of view of each major character.

dawson_mine.jpg <> dawson.jpg

Dawson Mine Site of 1913 Disaster Killing 269 Miners. After the mine disaster in 1913 a poem:

Here lie victims of greed, buried beneath coal.
Engines need fuel. Fires must be fed.
In the belly of the World,
muscles snapped, hearts burst.
The Worker was blamed: he ignited
with his own match
an explosion from combustible particles,
the residue of coal.
The explosion has kill our Brother.
But the flame burns higher.

The sibling’s friend, Antenore, educates himself in English reading Tocqueville among others. He is strong and opinionated who, after the death of the brother in a mine collapse, becomes a union organizer traveling to smaller mines in the American West. He decides that the mines or the owners will sooner or later kill him so we grabs the opportunity to learn stone masonry, moves to Chicago, and finds continuous employment, even through the great depression. He returns to Italy once, looking for a wife in the mountain village just at the time the Fascists are coming into power. He returns to Chicago with his bride who never learns English and earns money cleaning wealthy people’s houses near the El. She refuses to ride in cars claiming carsickness.

“El” in old Chicago chicago-el.jpeg

The next sections of the book deal primarily with the children and grandchildren of Antenore. By the third generation, the children know virtually no Italian so cannot really converse or get to know their grandmother. The second generation Chicago Italians own laundries and dry cleaners and maintain country club golf courses where they manage new immigrant laborers. Antenore’s son sells medical supplies throughout the Midwest and his family live in a modern split level home.

We follow the tribulations, depressions, and deaths both in Italy and America in this tightly written and surprisingly epoch novel. A real good, sympathetic look at the Italian immigrant experience. No Sicilian mafia figures anywhere in sight.