Tag Archives: italian immigration

Port of No Return – A Book Review



Historical fiction novels about Italy during World War II always seem to fascinate me – probably because the stories hit pretty close to home since my parents lived through this horrible time in Italy.  Neither one of my parents, though, remembers it as being really terrible – I guess they were the lucky ones.  But after reading several accounts of the atrocities that occurred in Italy, I am devastated to learn that so many innocent people lost their lives – and if they survived, they lived through some pretty horrible experiences.  My parents speak about the poverty, but their stories tend to be more human interest stories rather than accounts of despair and fear.  My mother tells a great story of her and her sister going to collect the rationed jam, of which each family was only allowed one jar per month. The two little girls, aged 8 & 7, were sent by their parents to go and pick it up.  On the way home, they decided to sample some. One spoonful for one, another spoonful for the other, and by the time they got home, the jam was all gone! My mom says that it tasted so good that they just couldn’t stop!

Michelle Saftich’s novel, Port of No Return, speaks of life in Fiume, a town now a part of Croatia.


Back before the war, it was a part of Italy, and during the war, it was occupied by the Germans. Towards the end of the war and even afterwards, it became a hotbed of political tensions between the Yugoslav Communists (or Partisans) and those who worked for the Germans. Families were just trying to eek out a living to support themselves and therefore found work wherever there were jobs.  Many of those jobs involved working on German projects.Tensions became so high that the Partisans fought everyone they felt supported the Germans. Families had to split up and flee their homes, taking refuge in refugee camps.  This story tells the story of the Sartoro family – mother, father, nonna and 5 children.  Ettore, the father, had worked in the naval yards run by the Germans, even though his allegiances were always to Italy. Word got out that the Yugoslav’s were coming to even the score with the Germans, and everyone involved with working for them was fair game. Ettore ran for his life, leaving behind his entire family. Months passed and the family had to escape Fiume as well.  They had to leave everything they had ever known.

The story tells of the hardships that both Ettore and his family faced, and their struggle to find each other.Even after the war was over, life was still unbearable – they were living in horrendous conditions in refugee camps – but their spirit remained strong and their commitment to family was beautiful.


They were determined to create a better life, and this meant leaving the world they knew and venture to unknown lands. The end of the book finds the family embarking on a voyage to Australia and to the new life awaiting them there.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I hope that a sequel will follow that tells of their new life in Australia.

The Shoemaker’s Wife – A Book Review


I just finished one of the best books I’ve read in a long time!  It was over 400 pages and I read it in a jiffy!  It kept my attention the entire way through 🙂


The story starts off in that gorgeous part of Italy right below the Swiss border, high in the mountains, and ends up on the East Coast of the USA.  This story takes place in the early 1900’s when so many Italians immigrated to the United States to make a living for their families.  It chronicles the story of Enza, a beautiful and kind girl and Ciro, a strong boy raised in a convent, from their early days in Italy to their new lives in America.  It’s a poignant and warm story that is told with such description that you feel like you are living her heartaches as well as her joys.  What I really enjoyed about this book was that the story was REAL (and I don’t mean it was non-fiction but that the story depicted real life and not some sensationalized story!) It was about  the ups and the downs of a normally led life.   It was a happy story and, actually a breath of  fresh air because, like so many other novels that only embellish the bad things, this one was about a life gone well.  By working hard, these people succeeded in creating a good life for themselves and their families.  It spoke of togetherness and a strong sense of family.  They all worked together for the good of the whole.  This is what it was all about during these times.  Sure, life was tough, but people appreciated what they had and if they wanted more, they worked for it!  They sacrificed the material things, but never the love they felt for each other.

This story hit home with me because my family were also immigrants and from this part of the Italy.  My grandfather originally immigrated to the USA back in 1916 and settled on the East Coast.  He fought during WWI for the Americans and was probably granted citizenship.  For reasons unknown, he went back to Italy and married.  Meanwhile his brother came out to San Francisco and permanently settled here (thus setting up a connection which would become useful in the future!)  When my father was 4 months old, in 1926, the family decided to immigrate once more to America.  They sailed out and settled in New Hampshire for 4 years.

My grandparents, my dad (the baby) and my aunt taken on their voyage to the USA in 1926.

My grandparents, my dad (the baby) and my aunt taken on their voyage to the USA in 1926.

My grandfather was a foreman for a granite yard there.  They had another child (the only one born in the USA).  But, alas, my grandmother did not like it here, so once again, they went back to Italy.  The family remained in Italy except for my uncle and eventually my father.  Since my uncle was born here, he got drafted during the Korean War and was sent to Alaska.  From there, he went to San Francisco because of the uncle connection.  And then, when my dad decided he wanted to immigrate as well, he had the connections of his brother and his uncle here in SF.  And that is how I came to be!  I wish that I knew so many more details of my grandparents and their immigration and lives in America, but sadly I don’t have much.  These stories always fascinate me and the author of this book, Adriana Trigiani, was lucky because she had lots of facts about her family’s immigration to the USA and used it as a basis for this great story.

E` Tutto Qua


It’s all here….a perfect name for a perfect restaurant!  On the sort of sketchy corner of Columbus and Broadway, at the end of San Francisco’s North Beach, is one of the best Italian restaurants I have ever been to.  The neighborhood used to house all the strip clubs…but in recent years, the strip clubs have gone and have been replaced with sports bars and restaurants.  There are still a few remnant ones which make for an interesting stroll up and down the street (and also people watching opportunities!)

E` Tutto Qua was born three years ago by the same owner that began North Beach’s  Steps of Rome about 20 years ago.  He sold Steps of Rome, moved back to Italy for awhile, and then came back.  According to him, this new restaurant was just “handed to him” because it had been the location of several failed businesses.  He took it on, changed the name, and created a sensational place.  The food is so authentic that you would literally feel like you are back in Italy.  The ingredients are fresh, the pasta is homemade, the pizzas have thin crusts (just like Italy), and the sauces and entrees are all created with much care.  If you are looking for Pasta Alfredo, you will have to look elsewhere!!  The gnocchi is just like Nonna makes (and that is a very hard act to follow!) The waiters are mostly all Italian (and recent transplants at that) and will delightfully carry on conversations in Italian with anyone that shows some interest.  It is so nice to see so many young Italians making San Francisco their new home. 

The restaurant is modernly decorated – there are no gawdy Italian statues or paintings on the wall.  Don’t get me wrong – sometimes I like Italian gawd!  It adds its own character and charm to restaurants.  But, in the case of E` Tutto Qua, the ambience has its own understated charm.  The many windows give it a vibrancy and life that is electric.  You feel like you are a part of all the action that North Beach offers in the evenings!  There is an upstairs dining balcony, as well,  for larger parties which is a bit more quiet, but which still allows you to  feel a part of the restaurant because it isn’t totally closed off. 

We will surely be returning to E` Tutto Qua for many more dinners and special events.

RIP Andrea Doria


July 25th will mark the 54th anniversary of the sinking of the Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket.  This luxury cruise liner was the most beautiful ship of it’s time with magnificent paintings in its dining rooms and expansive deck promenades.  It was Italy’s pride and joy, and a way for Italy to begin the process of rebuilding its tarnished reputation after WWII.  The ship was engineered with all the most advanced systems available, including a radar system.  But this radar system did little to help them during the evening of July 25th while it was advancing towards its destination of New York City after an 8 day voyage across the Atlantic from Genoa and found itself in dense fog.  The ship was carrying over 1100 passengers and 500 crew members when it collided with the Swedish passenger ship, the MS Stockholm, around 11 pm.  Both ships had noticed each other on their radar systems, but due to pilot error on both sides, they misinterpreted the radar readings and ended up colliding into each other.  The MS Stockholm, a ship constructed with a bow prepared to tackle ice in the North Seas, rammed into the starboard side of the Andrea Doria and sliced open the ocean liner like a can opener.  Those passengers that were unfortunate enough to have their cabins at the point of impact were killed instantly, while others died when the sea water began flooding the lower decks.  49 poor souls lost their lives that infamous night.  Fortunately, the majority of the passengers were saved due to the quick thinking of the crew and the response by other ships in the area.  The Andrea Doria took 11 hours before it disappeared into the sea.  Gone forever was this luxury hotel on the sea, and the lives of the passengers and crew were changed forever.

The story of the Andrea Doria is one close to my heart because this is the ship my father sailed when he came to the United States in 1955.  Fortunately, he was not on that infamous voyage but instead sailed one year prior to the ship’s sinking.  And sadly, he is not here today in order for me to ask him all the questions I now have of this famous ship.  But I will relay some of the stories he told me about his voyage.  I’m not sure what class he travelled in, but I’m sure it was tourist class.  After all, he was taking this ship as an immigrant coming to America to find his fortune.  Even though he was a professional soccer player in Italy, athletes in the 1950’s were not paid nearly as well as they are today and so therefore, I’m sure he did not travel as a celebrity.  Irregardless, he recounted stories of the glamour of the ship and how much fun he had on board while the ship sailed through the Mediterranean before  going through the Straits of Gibralter.  But once out in the open seas of the Atlantic, he got desperately sea sick and spent the rest of the voyage in his cabin.  That was the last I heard about his voyage on the Andrea Doria.  He wrote letters to his fiance, my mother, stating how sick he was and how he wished to die.  He was miserable on the voyage and could not wait to hit landfall.  All the glamour of this beautiful boat was lost to him because he felt so horrible.  Evidently, the Atlantic in March is notoriously rough, and I’m sure if he had known this, he would have picked another time of year to go.  My father returned to Italy 9 months later to marry my mother, but he took an airplane and never again set foot aboard a ship or, for that matter, any kind of boat!  Just the thought of it was too much for him to bear.  But….I would love to have known his reaction and thoughts when he heard of the sinking of the Andrea Doria and how, I’m sure, he realized that it could have been him aboard that fateful trip.