Uncaged Welcomes Mario Dell O’lio
Welcome to Uncaged! Could you tell readers more about Letters from Italy, your new book coming out in February?
Letters From Italy is narrative nonfiction of a love story about my immigrant Italian parents. My mother and father were always storytellers. Framed by letters written from the 1930s to the 1950s, I recount the experiences of my parents who emigrated from southern Italy to New York City. Nicoletta was orphaned at a young age and her position in life changed dramatically. Her family struggled to make ends meet after the war and her dreams of higher educations were dashed.
Orazio Dell’Olio was born into a poor family split between Italy and the United States. Half of his siblings grew up in New York, while he and three of his siblings remained in Italy. His dream of joining his family didn’t come to pass until he was twenty years old.
Tales of their childhood in a little town on the Puglian coast beget images of a fishing village, families from different socio-economic classes, and of love born out of chance.
Their romance began in 1950 when my uncle sent a photograph of his new fiancé to his parents in New York City. Orazio spotted an attractive young woman in the photo. What ensued was two years of correspondence. The letters he received from Italy were his life-line. Eventually they led to their first encounter in the town of Bisceglie, Bari. Married nearly sixty years at the time of my father’s death, theirs was a love story like no other I have known.
What is the most difficult scene for you to write? What is the easiest?
The most difficult scenes to write were those where my mother or father left family and friends behind, risking stability in hopes of a better life, a dream of the unknown. Reaching deeply into their struggles and fears, I tried to communicate the intensity of their experiences.
The easiest parts to write were scenes that described their longing for each other, their two-year courtship through expressive love-letters. One of my favorite chapters was when they finally meet. The connection between Nicoletta and Orazio is palpable. There was such adoration and heart-felt emotion in their first encounter.
Read the rest of this interview in the issue below.
Letters from Italy is a story of true love that spans an ocean. Against all odds, an orphaned girl and a young dreamer find solace in a romance sparked by a single photo and years of transatlantic letters. From a tiny Italian town in pre-WWII to New York City in her golden age, hopeful immigrants take a chance at living the American dream. Set on the Puglian coast, a world comes alive with images of a fishing village, families from different socio-economic classes, and a love born out of chance.
When they finally meet, Nicoletta and Orazio know they are destined to be together. Framed by the letters they wrote to each other, Letters from Italy takes us on a passage back through time with a romantic young couple whose devotion to one another prompted a bold journey in a foreign land.
Bisceglie, Province of Bari, Italy 1951
Given their long-anticipated encounter, Orazio and Nicoletta decided that if their feelings were as strong upon meeting as they were in their letters, they would marry; if not, they would part friends. There was a great deal resting on their first meeting. Orazio, though confident in his love for Nicoletta, was extremely anxious. With a chiseled jawline and a thick mane of black hair, Orazio was a handsome man but didn’t realize it. All he could see was a man, short in stature, who had always endured his brother’s jokes. He had worked hard, and his determination had brought some measure of success. He hoped Nicoletta would see how deeply he wanted to take care of her and provide her with the best life he possibly could.
Through their letters, he could tell she was more educated than he, and although Orazio felt intimidated after reading those first letters, he opened his heart to her. In return, Nicoletta expressed her profound desire to be with him. The photo that had brought them together showed her beauty, but those letters from Italy revealed her heart. He was confident that they were meant to be together forever.
The train ride from Paris seemed to take forever, but he was on his way to Bisceglie. Orazio had traveled by ship from New York to France, and he had been on the train for over twenty-one hours. Thankfully, he was finally in the province of Bari. The train had passed Foggia and Barletta over an hour before, and he realized he was almost there. Orazio was getting antsy as the train reduced its speed; he knew Bisceglie was the next station. When the train slowed to a stop, he left Gino sound asleep, grabbed his suitcase, and jumped off. There had been no announcement, but he didn’t think twice about it. Orazio was in Bisceglie at last!
Orazio gathered his luggage alongside the train and looked around. It was a chilly November morning, and the sun had not yet risen. He had been away from Bisceglie for four years and was trying to get his bearings. As the train pulled away, he realized they had not reached the train station. He was at least a mile outside the city center. Olive groves flanked both sides of the street, and there was no one in sight at that hour. What could he do now? How was he going to get to Bisceglie with all his luggage in tow? He gathered all his bags and hobbled down the road toward the city. It was slow going, and his arms ached from the weight of his burden. Piercing the silence, he heard the clip-clop of a horse-drawn cart in the distance. It was carrying milk from the farms and heading into town. He turned and waved as it approached him.
Read the rest of this excerpt in the issue below.