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A Tear and A Tear in My Heart

~ A collection of Italian immigrant short stories by Bernard J. Bruno

By Vigore book reviewer Mark A. Rudis

The characters slowly emerge from incomplete to allegorical. Their simplicity helps the reader anticipate the transition. In the big city setting of Chicago in the not too distant past we observe in a peculiar way the simple acts of immigrants coming to America. They need work. They produce Italian families outside the poverty of old Italy and inside the strange, potentially successful city of Chicago, a place that reflects its own set of problems. They have family tribulations and legal problems, and they share their incidents in the English language but use the thoughts and mental constructions of the old Italian way of thinking and speech. Next in arrives the Chicago “Outfit”, a distinctive Mob kinfolk who make their own social and legal manner of contributions to the local culture. Italian-style tragedy or comedy or irony is curious; thus, hopefully, it’s best have known Italy or Italians before entering these pages.

Bruno establishes his characters in a manner similar to Italo Calvino as each main character represents a behavior to be observed, a point to be made. Thereafter, a Bruno character becomes everyday real, not surreal. In some stories, the author appears as himself as lawyer for immigrants or their children who try to navigate, for example, unions and labor law. In a story of small Italian bakeries, the union enforcers act not much as thugs but as semi-well-intentioned stooges protecting their interests and source of bread for their families while trying to pull a fast one. The bakers, neither heroes nor adversaries, merely want to bake and not have their loaves thrown into the street, an act which creates shame and humor more than fear.

The author is arbiter who understands all sides, though he leaves the reader to observe and make his or her own judgment.

A disheveled popcorn street vendor reveals a tragedy travelling long over time from old country to new. Paci, dismally poor and goofy, exemplifies a secret honor and revenge in the same moment, and his honor is in turn honored in a different way by old friends. Paci interacts with the narrator only with nickel popcorn, remains distant and incommunicative, and yet Paci tells the whole story of the burden of protecting loved ones by not speaking as an act of sacrifice. Few of us learn the value of not speaking, and the sad story of Paci will provoke the reader only to sigh, and will remind us of past sadnesses and past sighs.

Bruno writes with an imperfect voice , almost in vernacular. The effect places him closer to the characters; however, at times, this creates an uneasiness, a kind of discomfort arising from knowing too much about a person.

At the end of each story Bruno presents a terse judgment, as if the tale was a parable with a moral to the story. But these moral statements seem something else, too. Visualize an old Italian man speaking with gestures, then ending his speech with a shrug - a shrug symbolizing understanding of the human condition. The shrug is the moral of the story.

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