The old country

for The Brooklyn Paper
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It’s not personal, it’s strictly business.

In one scene of a new novel by former Brooklyn resident Frank J. Pennisi, a group of Sicilians wielding flaming wine bottles full of gasoline have a confrontation with striking Irish workers on the Red Hook docks.

Guiseppe, one of the main characters in the historically-minded “Sciatu Mio,” looks out at the chaos and thinks of World War I before quickly realizing that this isn’t Europe; this is New York City in the 1930s.

The book covers three generations of one family’s story that goes from Italy to Brooklyn to Jacksonville, and back to the Kings County again, giving readers a lesson on Italian history as well as the bloody politics of New York City.

And while Pennisi’s novel takes readers to many unexpected places, it’s not always brutal.

Readers who are unfamiliar with the so-called old Brooklyn will be surprised to find Michael, the youngest of the three characters in this tale of a family tree, enjoying wine with his grandmother — in what was once a common thing in Brooklyn, a basement cellar full of home-made bottles of wine.

In the end, it is perhaps a cliche of this type of book, but the central concern is family and love. Like any good page turner, there’s plenty of romance, deceit, and action, but the novel transcends its tropes with an impassioned insistence that the often stereotyped Sicilian people have a story that is both historic and human. Pennisi was born in 1942 in Red Hook, and is the only child of Sicilian immigrants.

It is clear that this book is very personal.

Pick up a copy of “Sciatu Mio” at Bookmark Shoppe [8415 Third Ave. between 84th and 85th streets in Bay Ridge, (718) 833–5115,].

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