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The Family by Naomi Krupitsky

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

The Family is the debut novel by Naomi Krupitsky and is published in digital/ebook format with The Borough Press (Hardback Jan 6th). It is described as ‘a captivating debut novel about the tangled fates of two best friends and daughters of the Italian mafia, and a coming-of-age story of twentieth-century Brooklyn itself.’

I read, and was completely captivated by, the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, so on seeing that The Family was being compared to this renowned Italian trilogy I was immediately intrigued. I have a special place in my heart for Italy, and all it encompasses, having visited the country many times. I fell passionately in love with the culture, the people, the lifestyle, the scenery but was always very much aware of an undercurrent, of something darker hiding in the seams. The Italian Mafia, also known as La Cosa Nostra and of course The Family, is an iconic enigma that has been portrayed in its many forms over the years on the big and small screen, and of course through works of fiction and non-fiction. The violence, the brutality of the Mafia is recognised globally as their tentacles stretch far and wide, in particular in the US where many emigrated in the last century looking to create new markets, new places for the organisation to expand.

In The Family Naomi Krupitsky brings the reader into the lives and homes of two families, the Colicchios and the Russos, Italian immigrants with connections. It’s the 1920s and the influence of The Family is rife. For two best friends, Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo, these are the years when they are oblivious to what their fathers do. All Sofia and Antonia want to do is laugh and play together, making up imaginary games and just having girlish fun. With two very different personalities, their opposing traits create a strong bond and the girls always felt their friendship would remain strong forever. Never really aware of the fact that they do not have a larger circle of friends, it is only when they start school that they notice that they are treated differently. Kids start saying things about their fathers and mothers tell their sons and daughters to stay away from Antonia and Sofia. But small kids are mostly oblivious to the world around them, until one day Antonia’s father goes missing, his body never found. The adults know what happened and why and a fracture appears between the Russos and the Colicchios. The enormity of the truth filters out gradually over the following years and the relationship between the two friends struggles to survive.

Sofia is in awe of The Family and is fearless in her actions yet she can never be satisfied with her lot, wanting more, wanting to be more. Antonia is more reserved and sees a different life for herself, away from The Family, away from the people who she knows were responsible for her father’s death. Her mother never recovered from the trauma and Antonia lived quite a lonely life as her teenage years passed her by. She hid away between the covers of her books with a greater plan to go to university and to be someone else. Her mother warned her never to fall for a Family man, but the heart does its own thing and Antonia soon realises that she cannot escape her heritage, she cannot escape her past.

The Family explores the tensions that arise in all families, as well as that most fraught of relationships between mother and daughter, but it also has an extra layer delving in between the cracks of two families that are caught up in something much bigger than themselves. The Mafia are not an organisation that anyone can join. It is not a personal decision to leave. Choice is always capped, with fear ever present. As a member of The Family you get certain benefits. There is a power synonymous with its name but there is always the terrifying knowledge that once in you never, ever leave.

Sofia and Antonia both make decisions that are reckless. Their friendship crumbles a little at times but it never disintegrates fully. Underneath the chaos and all the pain, there still stands two little girls who swore an oath to remain best friends forever, to always be at each other’s side no matter how tough life got.

The Family is a coming-of-age tale of friendship, loyalty, resilience and courage. The world that Sofia and Antonia inhabit is far-removed from what most of us would ever experience but Naomi Krupitsky expertly brings the reader into their lives, into their homes and into their minds. Their pain is raw, their love is passionate, their fear is real. I hope we will hear more from the Russos and the Colicchios in the future, as they most definitely have more to tell, but we will just have to wait and see.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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