Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: Swimming in the Moon, by Pamela Schoenewaldt


by Pamela Schoenewaldt
William Morrow
Paperback, 368 pages
September 3, 2013

Lucia has moments of doubt about her mother Teresa Esposito’s sometimes peculiar behavior. She never knew her father, who deserted the two before she was born.  Their mother/daughter bond is strong, so tender, they even share the same bed. They are both servants for the Count and Countess Monforte in Naples, Italy in 1905. Teresa sings like an angel and she often is called upon to soothe the Countess during her frequent migraines. The Count is a contentious cad, impressed with his privileged position and own self-importance.  

One day, Teresa becomes the subject of an experimental treatment for hysteria as The Count and his doctor test the efficacy of his Rube Goldberg invention.  Lucia appears unexpectedly and demands her mother’s immediate release.   Unfortunately, Lucia becomes the next victim in their experiments. Teresa explodes with anger and rage as she strikes the Count down. Desperate to avoid capture and prosecution their options are limited as the Count’s influence is far-reaching.

Lucia, 14 years old, suggests they sail to America. Although, the idea of leaving Italy leaves Teresa glum. Their passage is paid for by the Countess.  Forged papers are created by her staff along with a letter of introduction to a boarding house in Cleveland.

They decide to Americanize their names to Lucia and Teresa D’Angelo. Teresa ultimately takes on the persona of the “Naples Nightingale” and is hired by a traveling vaudeville show. Lucia continues her studies at school and works hard as a scribe.  Gradually, the demons and hysteria insinuate deeper into Teresa’s personality.  Lucia must alter her plans to take care of her mother.

SWIMMING IN THE MOON is an exceedingly rich historical novel on so multiple levels. The characters are spot-on realistic, familiar and readers will easily empathize with their lives. Lucia is the quintessential immigrant of this era, determined to succeed, hard-working and practical,  never extravagant.  Schoenewaldt brings out the many social issues of the day. Lucia’s eyes attest to the poor working conditions, long hours and low pay.  Likewise, Teresa’s plight unveiled as if a documentary, uncovers the filthy facilities and limited choices available to care for the  mentally ill and their families.  

SWIMMING IN THE MOON has the same delicious flavor of America’s history that Pamela Schoenewaldt brought out in her novel When We Were Strangers.  Her compassion and love for the immigrant stories that shaped America have a compelling appeal.  A sensitive novel to treasure that will live on in your heart.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. I also own the Kindle edition that was purchased by me at Amazon.  

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