Carmine Vittoria

Once Upon a Hill by Carmine Vittoria. Key Biscayne: Purpo, Inc. 2022. 300 pp.

The book, Once Upon a Hill, may be categorized as a historical fiction. It combines a sentimental story with tales of corruption in Boston politics, Whitey Bulger, the background of the mafia's arrival in the USA and its integration with the general public, intimate details of the lives of two Italian immigrant buddies - one of whom turns to academia and the other to crime......... and eye-opening historical facts that should entice readers to want to flip from page to page. The story is true but a few names are fictional, for obvious reasons. Names of government officials and some of the mafia members are actual.

Specifically, characters like governors, mayors, 9-5 working people, university professors and not so illustrious ones like mafiosi, pimps, drug dealers, Whitey Bulger, mobsters, and etc. are convoluted with the two main characters. In addition, a smorgasbord of social issues, such as the plight of immigrants in general, jitterbugging teenagers era, Cuban refugees, etc., are presented in a very different "light" from other books. The story takes place mostly in the large Italian-American community of the North End, Boston. In reading the book, one may notice a slight tint of the following books: A Tale of Two Cities, Don Camillo, Christ Stopped at Eboli, Cicero, The Italians, Pizza Connection, etc.

Events of WW II in the Naples area as witnessed and seen by a child and his family are recounted in detail. His observations have often contrasted with adult observations of the same events. Many of the discrepancies between the two descriptions are reconciled or explained by the author in terms of recent revelations of the events of post-war military trials, economic recovery, preservation of the church, and the absurdity of some war plans by decision makers.

There is an old Neapolitan proverb that states roughly the following: With little truth, sometimes it may be possible to hide the big lie. The little truth, in the Mediterranean campaign of the Allied Armies, was that the island of Sardinia was at the limit of air coverage from Sicily. The big lie was that the island was occupied by German troops. In truth, German troops left in early September, 1943. Had the Allies invaded the island of Sardinia it would have shortened the war, minimized American casualties, trapped the entire German Army South of Rome, negated the need for the Salerno, Anzio and Cassino catastrophes, and reduced the suffering and misery in Southern Italy.

The Marshall Plan is given much credit for the economic recovery of Europe after the War. The Plan alleviated the food shortage in Southern Italy, but it did little to improve the industrial base of the South. If anything, it exacerbated the inequity of industries between South and North Italy. It resulted in a great exodus of young talent from the South of Italy to other parts of Europe and the USA.


Carmine Vittoria is a Professor Emeritus in the studies of Microwave Magnetic Materials and the author of three scientific books, one soccer book and over 400 scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals. He is Life Fellow of the IEEE (Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineering), Fellow of the APS (American Physical Society) and received many scientific awards. This is his first non-scientific book. He believes that the full story of WW II in the Naples area is yet to be told. The book sheds light on some of the events of that time.

My book on


“Remarkably well researched and expertly written. The book provides different perspective of the War than anything a reader is likely to have experienced before” –David Cavaliere, Italian Tribune Newspaper.

“Vittoria has injected realism and humanism into the events of the War taking place in the Naples area” – Pamela Donnaruma, Boston Post-Gazette Newspaper.

“Vittoria’s recollections as a child in the war - and especially in Italy – offer a unique perspective for even the most seasoned of World War II scholars” – Danielle DeSimone, Ambassador (NIAF) magazine.

“He wrote this book because the full story of World War II in the Naples area has yet to be told” – Fr. Ezio Marchetto, Voce Italiana magazine.

“Although there is little in the way of aviation history in Bitter Chicory to Sweet Espresso there is a mother lode of experiences and understandings for the usually ignored aspect of war—that of the civilians” –Joseph May, Travel for Aircraft magazine.

“Remarkable observations and insights” – Kelly Josephsen, Key Biscayne Islander News.

"Through these personal experiences set against the backdrop of history, Vittoria is able to place readers in a child's shoes while offering them the perspective of an aging man." - Miles Ryan Fisher, Editor-in-chief, Italian America magazine.

“Thank you for writing the book.” – Readers.

“I finished this most important and interesting book since a long time. I know a lot about W W ll, due to my husband, who came from Austria-Poland, but I really did not know anything about, how it was in Italy. I have several Italian friends, but they have never told me anything and they were mostly from Milano and Torino and Bergamo.

…..I think your book gave light to so many things people do not know, …….” A reader.

“Carmine Vittoria has long felt that the full story of World War II in the Naples area had yet to be told. His remedy was to write “Bittersweet Chicory to Sweet Espresso: Survival and Deliverance in the Naples, Italy, Area, 1940 to 1949.” Paul Basile, Fra Noi Magazine, Chicago.

“As might be expected, the narrator/child’s view of sometimes horrifying events is often uncomprehending, searching for meaning where in fact, events challenge understanding. It’s an effect that can sometimes be exasperating, for the narrative voice returns again and again to indelible memories that cannot be wiped away….” R. A. Hauser, Cinema actor, director, producer, PBS producer in Boston and Yale scholar.

I so very much enjoyed reading your book.

Your narration on your childhood during and after the war is fascinating as revealing every detail of it.... the nonsense of war and its collateral damage and how it impeded stability in the long term ....

Your book now makes me visit Avella and surroundings. Although I enjoy chaos and noise and traffic that belongs to Naples.

Anyways, your book is an eyeopener and a must read for all! I had no idea about the goumiers, that was news to me. The way your life unfolds... heartbreaking as almost comical - thanks to Felice and la Suora mayor,

education after all was strict and delivered. Italian characters like your mother Francesca ... couldn't be better and finally, soccer!!!!

You are an intellectual inspiration.... all these details.

It is a must read!

Another Reader

Bitter Chicory to Sweet Espresso by Carmine Vittoria. Key Biscayne: Purpo, Inc. 2017. 329 pp.

Review by Philip Cioffari

William Paterson University

Carmine Vittoria has written a well-researched, keenly remembered, and detailed book about the decade of the 1940s as it unfolded in the town of Avella in Southern Italy. It is part family history, part personal recollection, and part history of World War II in the Neapolitan region. As such, it is a comprehensive work dense with facts, family stories, and personal insights and conclusions. Ultimately, it is an account of how his family and he—as well as the town of Avella itself—survived the war and its aftermath.

The book’s structure consists of three main sections: The War Period, 1940-44; The Transition Period, 1944-46; and The Recovery Period, 1946-48. The appendices include: a chart of his family tree; maps of the Neapolitan region; a chronology of historical facts related to the war, from 1920 to 1948; an extensive bibliography that includes studies of the war, the Vatican, the politics of the time, the Mafia and the Camorra; and an index for easy access to the material.

In its compilation of historical fact, the book is without a doubt impressive; and even more impressive is the author’s ability to assemble the pieces of the puzzle of that period of Italian history and show how they intersect. He does that in a way that is both logical and comprehensible. Perhaps the book’s most affecting sections are those that deal with the author’s family and the effect the war had upon them: most notably the death of his father who was killed as the result of a British raid on a military hospital in Libya where he was stationed; his sister Caterina’s death because the town lacked the necessary antibiotics to stem an infection; and the death of his Grandmother who was run over by a German truck on the streets of Avella, one of the innumerable indignities his family and the town suffered as a result of the German occupation.

Less tragic, but challenging in a different way, was the lack of food during the war, their diet consisting mostly of polenta sprinkled with cheese, served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On Sundays, tomato sauce was spread on the polenta bread to make it look like it was a pasta dish. Coffee made from dried chicory plants, a bitter brew indeed, took the place of coffee beans which were not available, and eventually even chicory became hard to obtain. Butchers had to improvise, skinning cats and selling them as rabbits. He was taught by his grandfather to look at the paws, in order to determine what kind of meat was hanging from the butcher’s hooks.

Hope returns when the Fascists are driven out and the war ends. Businesses begin once again to sprout up throughout the town—wine shops, a café for social gatherings, even a cinema. Religious festivals are resumed, sponsored by the churches, three-day events in honor of various saints. His grandfather opens a store that sells local wine and cheese. Coffee from real coffee beans is once again available, the smell of roasting beans a most welcome one. And the happiest of endings occurs at the end of the decade when the author and his mother reach the United States, with its opportunity, its chance for the author to pursue his education and eventually attend a university, an option he would not have had if he had stayed in Avella.

As much a history of the town and region as it is a personal one, this is an important work, a necessary one. It reveals the human spirit in the face of adversity. As the Neapolitan credo that serves as an epigraph reminds us: Ci arrangiamo. We adapt to survive.

Bitter Chicory to Sweet

Espresso: Survival and Deliverance

from WWII in the Naples, Italy, Area

1940-1949 by Carmine Vittoria

This amazing book is a little difficult to review.

There are several ways to approach it: a memoir,

an assessment of history, and inspirational literature.

Bitter Chicory to Sweet Espresso is all three.

The author, Carmine Vittoria, is highly educated

holding a PhD in Physics and he is Professor Emeritus of Electrical

Engineering at Northeastern University in Boston. I would love to

meet him.

Mr. Vitoria grew up in Avella, Italy in the Campagna region, which was

brutalized during world War II by the Nazis, the British, the Americans,

the French and sadly, after the war, by the governing north. All this is

revealed to us as we walk through life with Carmine Vittoria and see

the events and effects of this calamitous time through his eyes. His

family was close-knit and the war losses, including Mr. Vittoria’s father,

were devastating.

The description of the rural and bucolic pre-war life of his shepherd

family is charming. It is interesting to visualize the melding of the shepherd

family chores from the grazing to the milking, cheese-making,

wool gathering, yarn-making and distribution involving all members

of the family.

Though the memoir is deeply intimate and lovingly detailed, I believe

the true focus of the book and its reason for existence is to reveal the

author’s very particular opinions about the war in his region. These

opinions differ from what most of us know about the war in the south

of Italy. Mr. Vittoria has clearly researched these troubled times and I

do believe he is probably very correct in his assessment. For example,

Mr. Vittoria strongly believes the disastrous battles at Anzio, Salerno

and Monte Cassino could have and should have been avoided. His

reasoning makes excellent sense, and his citations and bibliography

are truly impressive.

The author further discusses in detail how the people, land and art

heritage were abused to some degree by all the military occupiers,

Axis as well as Allied, who used up the local resources and left the people

close to starvation. The citizens had to brew their “coffee” from

chicory as the military commandeered all the available coffee beans.

Thus, the title.

Most disturbing among the allied occupiers were the French who hired

mercenaries from North Africa called Groomiers. These evil people

committed the most heinous and unforgivable and unforgettable acts.

The Marshall Plan also falls under Mr. Vittoria’s scrutiny. Historically the

Plan is generally praiseworthy, but the author points out the painful

truth that it contributed the huge disparity of wealth in Italy between

the north and the south by financially enabling the north to industrialize

while the south was left crippled, abandoned, and fell to mafia control.

In fact, the author points out that the use of the mafia (camorra)

by the Allied forces contributed to the strength of the organization in

post-war Italy.

Eventually the author leaves the chicory days behind and the book

delves into post-war days. Starvation is no longer a threat; but rural

life is still in a sad state of affairs. Through the author’s family we are

educated about the rise and attractiveness of the communist party

to the abused, neglected, hard-working poor in rural agricultural, Italy

and the opposing Christian Democrats.

Eventually Carmine Vittoria, as a young man, immigrates to America

where he joins relatives, and begins his illustrious education and

subsequent career. In America he finds plenty of sugar for his real

espresso. The story is not only one of survival but also conquest. Mr.

Vittoria rose victorious from a life begun in a theater of destruction. He

did this with continuing love in his heart for his family and a positive

outlook for the future, an inspiration to his readers.

NOTE: The author, Carmine Vittoria, Professor Emeritus, North

Eastern University, will present to the IAHF via Zoom, on Thursday

March 11 at 7:00 pm. He currently resides in Florida. Dr. Vittoria is

also making his book available to IAHF members at a very generous

discount, approximately $12.00 each. Contact the IAHF if you are

interested in purchasing the book and we will be sending an order to

the distributor.

Linda Binkley


Linda Binkley's

Linda Binkley, Book Review Corner, IAHF NEWSLETTER