Sunday, November 8, 2015

An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians


Rating: 4 Stars


I received this many moons ago as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for trusting me with so many books, I promise I will read all of them!

I can't figure out why it took me so long to finish this one, having started it months ago. It covers three of my favorite topics all nicely mooshed together in one book: New York, the Irish, and Italians. Okay, maybe the Irish and Italians in a very Godfather kind of way, because I am strangely obsessed with the Mafia circa early 1900s. And The Godfather is one of my top three movies of all time (sharing the honor with Jurassic Park and Newsies. I know, it is a very eclectic mix. I can't explain that either, except that aside from New York, Irish, and Italians, I also love dinosaurs and Christian Bale.)

It is strange to me that I dragged this one along for so long and I guess the only explanation I can come up with is that it is one of the first books I downloaded on my Kindle. Even after finally giving in after six months of back and forth, should I/shouldn't I and my mom saying, "For the love of God, BUY YOURSELF SOMETHING FOR A CHANGE!", I was not sold on reading books via a Kindle. There is simply no substitute for holding an actual book in your hands and leafing through casually, instead of making sure you use the correct amount of pressure in your fingertip so the device registers your swipe on the screen. It's really just not the same. At all. Plus, as I am a fan of reading (and reviewing!) older books, there is a certain smell that just evokes feelings of contentment. The whole library smells that way. At least, my favorite branch, Swanson, does. There are definitely some branches of Omaha Public Libraries that smell like other things - judgment and impatience (I'm looking at YOU, Millard).

Anyway, so me rebelling against my own purchase was probably a contributing factor for this one taking so long. The content of the book was truly fascinating to me. It tells the story of two ethnic groups forging their identities in America and what a struggle it was as waves of Italians began immigrating, which ruffled the feathers of the already-established Irish population. As someone of neither Irish nor Italian decent (heavy on the German with a side of Swedish right here), it gives me a bit of a different perspective, as I am an outside among these two groups. It is hard to recognize your own similarities with another group, whom you are basically taught to hold in very low-esteem, yet the Irish and Italians encountered many of the same problems and prejudices from others as they worked to establish themselves. There are far more similarities between the two groups than either would have cared to admit 150 years ago, or even 75.

I enjoyed many aspects of this book, not only the detailing of the ups and downs these two groups shared in their tumultuous relationship, but of the history lesson in which the author also looked at the groups separately to give the reader a clear picture and the groups distinguished identities. I especially find interesting the era in New York when Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall ruled with an iron fist, so there was plenty of New York history as well, all entwined together in this love-hate relationship. I've added several more books to my to-read list as a result of the myriad of interesting people I was introduced to in this book.

As the book neared the end of the line, the author also discussed how this sort of rivalry had been tamed as the two groups intermarried and became more at ease with one another. New ethnic groups moving in to traditionally Irish and Italian sections of the city also paved the way for new rivalries on par with this one, and make for interesting comparisons.

All in all, a great read. I highly recommend it, regardless of your own ancestry. This is a highly interesting look at a volatile time in the history of the US and how these two groups were so important in shaping New York.

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