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.
Reviews: Once Upon a Hill
In Once Upon A Hill, Carmine Vittoria, recounts the odyssey of two teenagers who emigrate to America from World War II ravaged Naples area of Italy. While the two shares similar backgrounds, they take completely different roads to their assimilation into American society.
The book is a study of the challenges facing immigrants in the America after the Second World War. Despite the many difficulties, the country offered opportunities for those with the ability and determination to benefit from them. One of the two decided to take advantage of the possibilities offered by the then relatively affordable education system and embarked on a successful scientific and academic career. The other chose the path of “easy” money and joined the mafia.
As the two take different life paths, they lose track of each other. However, neither lost the human aspects of their Neapolitan character. The Neapolitans are noted for caring of those less fortunate, the enjoyment of life despite its many hardships, and the importance of family both in the development of the individual and of society.
Late in life, the two friends meet unexpectedly on the bocce court in the North End, Boston. In telling that story, Vittoria brings us into the life of Italian immigrants in one of several “little Italy” in America. Despite what one may have learned from Marlon Brando Godfather movies, life in those communities is not all about violence. It is also about nurturing the traditions brought from the old country. The most popular of course are the religious feasts and the restaurants and the bakery shops. It is what makes today the North End of Boston a must-see location when visiting that city.
While the book falls in the historical fiction category, as one who also emigrated from Italy and experienced the assimilation process, in reading the book I had feeling of re-living part of my own life. And Vittoria does it with lots of humor
I loved this book. We always enjoyed going to the North End of Boston to the special restaurants and pastry shops. I had no idea about the history. I knew nothing about the crime and dangers in the area and certainly felt no concerns about going there nor would I now.I also didn't know much about bocce although Ralph and I have played it. I admire your courage in writing about the politics-----OH MY.
Please keep on writing. Your knowledge is incredible and should be shared.
Once again your book took me down memory lane. I did finish the book and I want to compliment you for your narrative. Without going in further details, I want you to know that in the 70s I did some freelance work as translator for the office of Frank Hogan NY EASTERN COURT DISTRICT COURT D.A. and some work was done about the famous PIZZA CONNECTION case . Some of your protagonist in your book are very familiar' I do have some paisani in the Boston area that you write about and suggested them to buy the book. Also, I read that you wrote a book about soccer; can you tell me the title ? tanti saluti.
KEY BISCAYNE NEWSPAPER: ISLANDER NEWS
KEY BISCAYNE, F.L. – Knowing for his striking wit, carefree spirit and captivating storytelling, Carmine Vittoria has once again proven that history is better told through an interpersonal lens.
Author, professor and history buff, Vittoria has come out with his second book to follow “Bitter Chicory to Sweet Espresso”---a historical fiction piece highlighting the events of World War II in Naples, Italy from the lens of an impressionable child and his family.
Vittoria’s new book, “Once Upon a Hill”, also falls into the historical fiction category. Known for his unprecedented storytelling, Vittoria continues to fuse authentic facts with personal stories in order to give his audience a more humane view on historical events.
A story of corruption and camraderie in Boston’s predominantly Italian-American North End, “Once Upon a Hill” tells a tale of two companiable Italian immigrants who follow two distinctly separate paths amidst a time when mob relations reign supreme and immigrants struggle in acclamating to a new America.
With one entering academia and the other entering the mafia, the two individuals eventually find their way back to each other through the most unconventional of circumstances despite their premature divergence. Ultimately, readers can admire how the two lives become inextricably linked to each other as life continues to pass on.
“My stories are all about people. They are memoirs, but with flares of realism,” said Vittoria.
The main characters’ lives are evidently intertwined with the political and social landscape of a corrupt Boston. A tumultuous period of American history, the struggle to provide and survive was one which many immigrants faced on a daily basis as they attempted to navigate their newfound surroundings.
Vittoria recognizes the importance of incorporating essential life values into his stories in order to extract emotional reactions from his readers and cultivate a sense of fellow feeling.
“There is a lot to be learned from life, there really is,” said Vittoria.
In essence, Vittoria’s writing process is simple. He notes that his creative juices flow best in the early morning, recognizing that his craziest ideas are inherently his most authentic.
“You start out with something you know that is truth. From there, you can do whatever you want with it,” said the accomplished author.
Proud and aware of his humble roots, Vittoria still makes ricotta cheese, just as he did when he was a boy.
Vittoria is currently in the process of writing his third book–one that will sure enough continue to captivate readers with passionate narration and in-depth insight into the people history tends to leave behind.
Isabella Braddish, editor, Key Biscayne "Islander News" Newspaper, July 14, 2022.
November 24, 2022 ITALIAN TRIBUNE Newspaper, NJ
This fascinating, well-researched book, "Once Upon a Hill" by author Carmine Vittoria, is best described as a work of historical fiction. It tells of the lives of two boys from the Province of Avellino in Campania, Italy, whose lives begin in parallel. But even before immigrating to America, they begin to follow very different paths. Within their worlds are events that grab your attention and many moments when the reader will likely unconsciously utter "I didn't know that."
The beginning of the book is set in the immediate period following WWII, a desperate time in southern Italy, especially in the areas surrounding Naples, but is here that the two boys from different towns on different sides of the same mountain meet as shepherds. It is during these early chapters that the author's easy and familiar manner of story telling becomes apparent. While numerous characters are introduced, the development of particular ones are carefully cultivated, allowing the reader to focus on the story. The boys' assimilation into American culture of the 1950s is not remarkable and is a story that is familiar to most, but there are signs along the way that the future of the protagonists, Vito and Guido could have taken different trails at various points during their years in America.
The book is often a sharp study in contrast. There are the difficulties and challenges faced by the Italian immigrants in the post-war era, but also the extraordinary opportunities, such as in education that were a world away from the southern Italy described at the book's beginning. It is also contrasts decisions made, whether it was the route where easy money is perceived , but where dangers lurk in the shadows, or the dedication and passion of academic pursuits, where value is not placed into monetary terms.
Most of his historical novel takes place in the North End of Boston, an enclave for generations of Italians. There is an authenticity to the book, where true to life incidents and genuine facts are interwoven within the characters' stories to give the reader a more personal look at historical events. It is not a book of simple, casual comradery, although loyalty and family are binding features, but it is a place where the playing field is anything but level. Life gets gritty and the individuals, some fictitious and others real, who set about the political machination in Boston and the underworld characters who figure into the book's moving parts, make this a fascinating read. You will recognize many illustrious characters from events pulled from the headlines from decades past, but which receive a unique and often humorous treatment in the talented writings of the author.
As the two take different avenues in life, they lose track of each other. However, neither has lost their defining features, honed on the hills in Avellino. Their lives become intertwined with the political and social landscape during tumultous period of American history. Late in life, the two friends meet unexpectedly in the North End and discover that as much as things change, they also remain the same. Exceedingly well written, entertaining and humorous.
David Cavaliere, Chief Editor of the Italian Tribune Newspaper, West Orange, NJ
San Jose, CA IAHF
Once Upon a Hill by Carmine Vittoria is a multi-faceted work of heavily documented historical fiction. It will appeal to readers interested in the development of the Mafia here in America as well as its roots in the south of Italy. Professor Vittoria makes interesting, occasional references to the Mafia films such as The Godfather and Goodfellows which makes his historical writing relevant to present day readers. Additionally, the book will have special appeal to Bostonians as the complicated history of the North End is thoroughly explored in the writing.
Readers are initially introduced to two young Italian shepherd boys from small towns in the Campagna region of Italy. At 8 years old the boys are thrust into the hard life of shepherding hundreds of sheep to the Apennine Mountain Ridge for grazing. It's lonely and dangerous life. The resulting friendship of the boys forms the basis of the story.
One boy, Vito, comes from the sunny side of the mountain and his trek up to the top is very long. His trek is fraught with typical mountain dangers of wildlife and dangerous terrain. The second boy, Guido, comes from the colder and windier side of the mountain. His trek to the top is shorter, but exceedingly difficult due to an abundance of loose boulders and deep ravines and wild boar. These treks hint to the path to the paths they each will follow in life. Once the boys reach the sweet grasses of the highland plateau, the tedious and lengthy job of caring for the sheep and sheepdogs continues for months. The gentleness of the grassland atop the mountain offers a needed contrast to he grueling trek up the hill. Frequent matches of bocce among the shepherds of all ages provide excitement and camaraderie.
The introduction of the boys' cresting the hill, encumbered wit responsibility, and reaching the top successfully, is a metaphor for the entire subsequent story. It's the 1940's, the War has ended, and the boys become familiarized with the modern world and its opportunities. Vito decides to come to America and eventually gains entry through legitimate channels. Guido also gains entry but does so under false pretenses and documents signed and paid by his Mafia relatives.Their method of entry into the U.S. foreshadows the paths their American lives will take.
Author Vittoria has clearly done his homework as we follow Guido's path through all the open doors provided by the Mafia. The background of the Mafia capos, where they come from, and what becomes of them is fascinating. Mafia illegal activities in New Jersey, New York, Providence, Miami, Havana, and Las Vegas will remind readers of what a dangerous and massive and successful, and evil organization gripped the country. A truly black mark on Italian American History.
Vito's path was blissfully different. Just as he entered the country as an upright citizen, so his life continued. It was a pleasure to read about his good choices, academic challenges, and successes. His emersion into the rarefied world of electromagnetism and that of Enrico Fermi's former students and colleagues is fascinating and satisfying.
Interestingly, the two childhood friends meet again, much later in life on a bocce court in Boston's North End. So, the boys come full circle from their youthful bocce on the high plateau. The bocce court which was an oasis at the top of the Apennines is also an oasis in the troubled North End where people come together for relaxation and diversion despite their differences in daily life. The conclusion is gratifying, and the richly detailed book is enjoyable and edifying.
Linda Gaudio Binkley's Book Cover, IAHF Newsletter, February 2023
Bitter Chicory to Sweet Espresso by Carmine Vittoria, Key Biscayne, Purpo, Inc. 2022, (312 pp).
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.
Reviews: Bitter Chicory to sweet espresso
“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!
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
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,
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
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, Book Review Corner, IAHF NEWSLETTER
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: email@example.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
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.