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Facing the Past with the Novel “Orange Peels and Cobblestones”

From her early childhood days in Italy to her life as a young wife and mother in Brooklyn, New York, Marietta is haunted by hard questions from her past. In her struggle to free herself from her troubled memories she realizes that she must first discover the truth about her complicated and sometimes chaotic family life. This is a deeply moving novel about the enduring power of love amid abandonment, rejection, betrayal and the consequences of other’s decisions. The book is poignant, heartbreaking and like many, the story is filled with redemption and insight.

Orange Peels and Cobblestones is the coming of age story of Marietta, born in the town of Castellaneta, in the province of Taranto, in the Puglia region of southern Italy. She is the child of young parents, Stella and Antonio, whose on-again, off-again marriage is in tatters. Each time they separate, Stella moves with her two daughters back to her mother’s home. However, it is in that household that Marietta thrives as a happy child. She feels her life blessed because of her Nonna, who adores and nurtures both her and her sister.

Yet, amid this happiness, in one sentence, her ten-year-old life was shattered. Without warning, her mother announced that Marietta would be going to live in America. She learns that her father’s brother and wife, whom the little girl has never met, have never been able to have children and want to adopt her. Even as Stella assures her daughter that her life in America will be much better, Marietta is heartbroken at the thought of leaving her Nonna. Without realizing that the adoption papers had already been filed, Marietta still knew that her life in Italy would be soon draw to a close and she did not want to begin a life in a strange land.

The book reveals segments within Marietta’s life that defined both her struggles and insecurities. It defines in a very personal way how whether surrounded by people or by one’s self, a feeling of loneliness can bring about a social paralysis whose bonds are like ever-tightening shackles.

Months later, Marietta was awakened in the middle of the night and told to get dressed for her flight to New York in America. Soon she and her family were on a train to Rome, but it was only Marietta who boarded the airplane. Her fear and inability to communicate her insecurities would become a challenge that would haunt her for many years to come. Especially pronounced was her fear that she was not wanted.

Her time in America began inauspiciously. Her uncle and aunt arrived one hour after the little girl’s plane had landed. One cannot help but feel terrible for the child, sitting alone in the airport, unable to understand the new language, while watching the excitement of others being greeted until the area became almost deserted. Her meeting with Uncle Paul, a New York City policeman and Aunt Teresa was also strained. Although her uncle was warm, her aunt had never wanted children and that became immediately clear, reinforcing Marietta’s feelings of inadequacy.

Marietta’s adaptation to her new world showed her plucky determination, impressing her teacher and new father with intelligence and a drive to master English. The novel travels with Marietta and the challenges that she faces with her new family through high school and college years and then to her marriage. It is after the birth of her child that she gains perhaps the greatest moment of clarity in her life when, as she holds her infant near, she thinks about the instant maternal bond that she feels. It is then that the juxtaposition of her own early years with her mother, subsequent adoption and the love that she feels for her child really hits home. It is then up to Marietta to make the child feel wanted and to begin a new journey; one that would bring closure with her birth mother, who has moved to California and with Nonna, who is still in Italy.

About the Author

Rose Marie Dunphy was born in Castellanetta, Italy and was educated in Italy and New York. She received a Bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and a Masters’ degree from Stony Brook University. She taught Science in NYC and NYS schools for ten years and Italian to adults on a private basis. She is the author of three other books – “The Scent of Italian Cooking,” a cookbook of Italian and Italian American recipes, compiled from generations of Italian cooks; “The Love of Your Life,” a compilation of the author’s published essays and short stories and “That First Bite – Chance or Choice,” a self-help book on eating disorders, co-written with an expert in the field. Rose Marie has written numerous essays and short stories that have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor and other publications. Orange Peels and Cobblestones is available from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com. You can learn more about the author on her website by visiting rosemariedunphy.blogspot.com.