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At the very opening of his most recent narrative, Familia, Giose Rimanelli informs the reader, in his premessa, that:
L'idea era quella d'intitolare questo libro Tre passi infamiglia, in quanto si compone di "3 libri", indipendenti l'uno dall'altro ma uniti dallo stesso tema: famiglia come tronco genetico e famiglia come massa di gente che emigra da un posto all'altro, in questo caso da un continente all'altro, con uguale affanno e speranza. (1)
The writer produces a photographic montage of the Italian emigrant experience which spans, largely, from the middle of the 19th century to the post World War II years. The black and white images, initially viewed on the book jacket, are expanded within the text to incorporate the entire expatriates' atmosphere and are held together by the presence of the author's own immediate family. The writer then employs the chiaroscuro techniques of shadowing and illuminating to highlight the migratory circumstances of the century covered within his text. Moreover, Rimanelli generates a nickelodeon type effect with these vivid, quasi-monochromatic descriptions by simultaneously adding a musical background gradation: jazz, with its concurrent development and migration during this same time period. The author blends and splices this all-American music genre with the refugee influx from Europe and, thereby, demonstrates the totally multi cultural American tapestry, with its roots, developed in two separate environments. (2)
Familia is a saga that encompasses the social, economic and political realities of two worlds, the Old and the New, separated by an ocean. The emigrant, who left his homeland like the Jews crossing the Red Sea in search of a better life for themselves and their children, (3) ultimately survived the arduous expedition and thrived in the new environment.
But, more substantially than a photo collage of these two separate and diverse realities in which the refugee life is portrayed, the author, using these same images and likenesses, creates a Picasso-like picture in which he positions, juxtaposes, shades and highlights the materiality and historicity of the real world with the creativity, depth and spontaneity of the invented. Rimanelli, therefore, becomes a guide through the labyrinthine world of the artists dedicated realms of truth and fiction, and as such, indicates the necessary path to visualize the dichotomy of the journey.
Structurally the text has three main branches that the author labels as Emigrazione come ricordo, Emigrazione come destino, and Emigrazione come arte. Each of these books has its own subdivisions: Ricordo has seven mini chapters; Destino has ten; and the last part, Arte, incorporates everything from the previous narrated and documented units and now presents it in a dramatic, theatrical fashion. Moreover, the author experiments with the use of multiple writing styles to compose the text. The reader is confronted with narrative, poetry, history (literary, music, social, political and economic), and theater. At the same time, the writer has combined his academic pursuit of research and it is evinced by the constant reminder at the base of the page with topics and texts composed in footnote style. The narration presented is a documented and researched instrument for future scholars.
Moreover, like Julio Cortazar's Rayuela, Rimanelli's Familia can be read from many perspectives. Each book, presented with its own, diverse epigraphy, could be considered as an independent and separate entity, not qualified nor linked to the other part, and therefore has a oneness onto itself. It could, also, be studied in its integrity, as one complete and continuous text. Additionally, the annotations at the foot of the page could be seen as a distinct and segregated totality from the rest of the prose and, consequently, another text evolves and develops within the original chronicle.
Time is fabulistic and not chronological in nature. The reader is taken on a magical journey that commences in the 19'h century and concludes in the present day era. However, the unifying element in all parts is the author's family as witness and testimony to a past history, and they, who serve in a Virgilian manner, as the guide throughout the fable.
The tale of Familia is, as Rimanelli asserts, the story of emigration. It is a tale that embraces his own personal family history and ultimately transcends that of the general masses by serving as a paradigm to the saga. The author establishes, in his premessa, the reason for which he entitled this narrative with the Latin term of familia rather than the Italian:
Ho infine deciso di chiamare questo volume con il latino della nostra infanzia nell'universo, Familia, titolo che nel caratterizzare un'unica entitg, la "mia" famiglia, allo stesso tempo la trascende appunto in quanto nell'avventura anonima dell'emigrazione rientra il fato di ogni famiglia, di ognuno di noi che ha vissuto il viaggio [...] (16)
The theme of emigration is not new to the art and experience of Rimanelli. The astute reader of his work recognizes the migratory subject in such works as Peccato originale, Biglietto di terza, Una posizione sociale, Tragica America, Detroit Blues, Moliseide and Other Poems, and Sonetti per Joseph. America, as metaphor, surfaces as a dream like desire and ultimately takes a prominent role in the reality and creativity of the Italian writer. In Peccato originale, there is the aspiration of America; in Biglietto di terza, the voyage to the New World; in Tragica America, the author takes a profound look within the consciousness of American life of the 1960s; in Detroit Blues, a glance into the new assimilated Italo/American life with second-generation realities permeates the novel; and in Moliseide and Other Poems he sings of America as well as his homeland, Molise, as a traveler between these two countries.
Joseph Tusiani points out that the reader of Familia has the impression that he or she has already read the text and that the uniqueness comes in that the author:
[...] si rinnovella in ogni suo scritto senza pero trasformarsi tanto da rendersi anche per un solo istante irriconoscibile. Le fattezze sono identiche ed e identico soprattutto l'animo, cioe il vigore e, specialmente, l'assoluto candore (che a persone reticenti e introverse puo un tantino dispiacere) con cui Giose Rimanelli sa e vuole narrarsi, e narrarsi e per lui (mi si conceda il paradosso) vital malattia. (576)
The subject of autobiography in the works of Rimanelli must, therefore, be scrutinized.
Georges Gusdorf explains that the autobiography has to be a mirror of the author himself. The writer, accordingly, becomes the chronicler of his own life. He endeavors to reconstruct the tousled, mosaic elements of his particular existence in order to present them in a more coherent and integral expression of his entire destiny. The artist and the protagonist must concur. The historian needs to approach himself as the object (31-35). Philippe Lejeune further explains that the narrative must be written in an autodiegetic form with no distinction between the first person singular voice and that of the narrator, protagonist and author. These elements must coexist and are never inseparable, thus forming an autobiographicalpact (5-7).
Diffused individual events that substantiate or evoke Rimanelli's personal reality/identity are depicted throughout Familia. The reader is introduced to various generations of the author's actual family who serve as signposts down the historical path with which the writer guides us. On the maternal side of the bloodline, Rimanelli confirms his American heritage: his mother, born in Canada; his grandfather, in New Orleans; and his great-grandfather, Rodolfo Minicucci, although not born in the Americas, ultimately found himself in the southern United States during the American Civil War, fighting for the losing side and ultimately, after the conflict, remaining in the United States and serving as a justice of the peace in New Orleans. On his paternal side, the author introduces his father, born in their hometown of Casacalenda …