Unto the Sons Essay - Critical Essays

Gay Talese

Unto the Sons

The most telling testimony to the power of this book is the fact that a six-hundred-plus-page account of three generations of Italian immigrants can be so engrossing that once you begin reading it, regardless of your ethnic background, it is almost impossible to put it down.

And the key to the book’s impact is not merely the events it recounts, although many of them are both heart-tearing and heart-pounding, but rather the brilliance with which Talese combines historical fact, personal family history, and fictional invention to resurrect the past and make it live.

If nothing else, the book is a welcome corrective for those who automatically identify Italian immigrants with the Mafia, for that dark and violent society plays a relatively small role in this story, which is more representative of the Italian experience in America than the bloody image presented by the combined efforts of GODFATHER creators Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola.

Talese expertly navigates between the private fortunes of his ancestors and the public fortunes of those Italians with more familiar names, such as Sinatra, DiMaggio, and La Guardia; and he skillfully moves back and forth between the experiences of his great-grandfather Domenico witnessing the upheaval of his homeland, his grandfather Gaetano working in a Pennsylvania factory town, and his father Joseph making a place for himself as a tailor in Ocean City, New Jersey. This is a powerful book that reminds us that the American Dream is not an abstraction or a cliche, but a vital part of the lives of real people.

Sources for Further Study

Chicago Tribune. December 29, 1991, XIV, p. 1.

Library Journal. CXVII, February 1, 1992, p. 104.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 23, 1992, p. 2.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, February 9, 1992, p. 3.

Newsweek. CXIX, February 10, 1992, p. 62.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, January 1, 1992, p. 42.

Time. CXXXIX, February 10, 1992, p. 72.

The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXVIII, Summer, 1992, p. 90.

The Wall Street Journal. February 19, 1992, p. A12.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, February 16, 1992, p. 1.