Half Italian (and then some)

Stories and recipes from an American-born Italian

Non-Fiction - Memoir
214 Pages
Reviewed on 05/26/2013
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Author Biography

Joe Pfeiler holds Bachelor degrees in music and accounting. He grew up on a farm in southern California where both sides of his family were farmers. Joe’s maternal grandparents immigrated to southern California from Lombardy, Italy in the early 1900s. A tribute to his Italian family, Half Italian (and then some) is his first book. Joe speaks a bit of Italian and lives in Los Angeles where he works in finance. He travels often to France and Italy.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Michael McManus for Readers' Favorite

“Half Italian (and then some)” is a tribute to the author’s immigrant grandparents and his “first-generation” mother. In a series of memories he tells about his maternal grandmother who sailed from Italy in the early part of last century and crossed our continent, not knowing the language or the customs, to find her new home in rural California. The community she entered was a haven of familiarity, where she learned to speak and live as an American, while preserving the healthy, respectful life that she knew in her native land. This tale, while fictitious in terms of the actual names of places and people, is true to the experiences his grandparents and their descendants encountered in this new land. The stories told, that span nearly seventy years, will draw you in and introduce you to a culture that cherished respect and nurtured the idea of family. His memories of those in his family, including himself, about returning to Northern Italy for visits will make you want to journey there yourself. As an added feature, the author punctuates the chapters with recipes that sound utterly delicious.

Joe Pfeiler’s ability to relate the experiences of grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins makes you feel as though you have known these people. His anecdotes about life and lessons learned as the offspring of immigrants are both heartwarming and humorous. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to look back at how lucky America has been to welcome people like the ones that Joe describes. Thank you, Joe, for a great read.

Anne Boling

“Half Italian” is an entertaining book written by Joe Pfeiler. It is his memoir of his family told through his point of view. He had a special relationship with his great-aunt; they loved each other very much and loved to play practical jokes on each other. She had planned to be a nun but when a letter from America arrived asking for a bride - this was a common way of finding one — she asked to be relieved of her obligations and headed for the states. There are many funny tales, like the about a cement duck pond and skinny dipping, and the rules his grandmother had for taking a nap. One of the best lessons the author learned from his family was how to treat everyone alike.

"Half Italian” is a tale of family relationships and lots of love. I enjoyed the humor in this book and found myself laughing at many of the anecdotes. The Italian customs and culture were fascinating. Joe Pfeiler’s book brilliantly conveys the warm feelings he has for his family. He has even included recipes for many of the Italian dishes he grew up on.

Wen Lung

Imagine having to migrate from a tiny village to a foreign country in an entirely different continent. Take this fear, multiply it by a hundred times, and you’ll suddenly start to understand why in the early 20th century one might “get indigestion from eating unknown fruit” (also known as a banana), or why mustard might be horrible signs of food starting to turn rotten and so deserves its place out the window of a train. Half Italian (and then some) by Joe Pfeiler recounts hilarious stories of his childhood, growing up in a proudly Italian household in America. Though Pfeiler is the second generation since his grandparents migrated, he hints that his Italian heritage evidently allowed him to grow up in a household full of colorful experiences. The cherry on top of the cake in this book is definitely the authentic recipe at the end of each chapter; After all, what is an Italian book without food?

"Half Italian (and then some)" brings out genuine experiences from the time when Pfeiler was a young boy. The way in which he describes his family makes it impossible not to feel attached to them in some way by the end of the book. I found myself laughing out loud and repeating lines to whoever was in the vicinity; I honestly never imagined that learning English was so hard! I can’t wait to try out the real hearty Italian recipes, which sound simple enough for any amateur to try out. The best part is that I already know it’ll taste so much better because of the story behind each dish, including his grandmother’s famous ABC soup that surprisingly requires only 4 ingredients. Not just for Italians, but for any reader needing a good laugh, and a book to make you feel closer to home.

Jack Magnus

"Half Italian (and then some)" is the story of Joe Pfeiler's memories of his childhood spent on the family farm in Southern California. Pfeiler's maternal grandparents, great-uncle and great-aunt were born in the Italian Alps in the same or neighboring villages. They each braved the ocean trip on their own to get to a new land where the language and culture were totally new experiences. He recounts his grandmother throwing away a banana on the railroad trip west as her experience had always been that fruit was hard. The banana, being soft, must surely be bad, she reasoned, and tossed the ruined fruit out of the window. A sandwich spread with mustard was similarly judged spoiled and followed the banana through the window. Pfeiler's memoir of his childhood is filled with stories about his family, especially his great-aunt and grandmother, with whom he shared a special closeness.

Pfeiler's memoir reads like fiction. I don't mean that his tales seem made-up, rather that he is able to project himself as a relatively dispassionate observer of himself and his family throughout the years covered in this work, and this helps him to truly bring his words to life. After reading just a few pages into "Half Italian (and then some)", I began to feel that I knew each and every one of Pfeiler's relatives. As he requested in his prologue, I enjoyed every funny story and laughed with him at the mixing-up of languages and the pranks members of this tightly knit and very loving family played on each other. I also found myself reading excerpts aloud to my friend as I read. You can almost smell the orange blossoms and hear the livestock on the farm as you read his words, and the recipes included are a real bonus - simple and hearty fare that sounds easy-to-make and very tasty.

Maria Beltran

In the 1900's, a young girl living in a small village in northern Lombardy in Italy throws her religious vows away to go to the United States of America, where an Italian immigrant husband waits for her. She later summons her sister to join her in the US and thus begins this endearing family saga. While trying to merge with the American way of life, these Italian immigrants retain a part of the old world that they passed on from one generation to the next. Settling in a ranch in Southern California, the family cook Italian food, ferment their own grappa, invent slang words, raise animals for food, cling to their superstitious beliefs, and thrive even in the midst of the depression in the 1920's. Today, with third and fourth generation American born family members, they have retained this charming mix of Italian-American 'culture'. This is perhaps one of the greatest tributes to their ancestors who started it all.

In this book, Joe Pfeiler tries to immortalize his Italian ancestors. He reminds us that the United States of America is a mix of different cultures and is the setting of so many immigrant stories that are sometimes happy and sometimes sad. One of the greatest legacies left to us by our ancestors are the stories that they left behind and this book is indeed a loving family heritage told with humor and fond remembrance. As the author traces the path of his grandparents from Italy to California, I find myself admiring their courage and determination to find a better life. Retaining their ties to a land that they left behind, the family may have seemed strange to their neighbors but this is what makes their lives rich and colorful. The ranch is no longer there but the memories live on. The author also shares with the readers some family recipes that have been on the family table for generations. This is a book that warms the heart and I highly recommend it to all kinds of readers.

Sheri C.

This book had me hooked from the very first page. It was funny and thought provoking, giving insight into cultures I had never considered. I'm a cousin of Joe's, not from the Italian side, but from the Austrian heritage side, and although I share many cousins and experiences with him, he gave me new perspective on our diverse and large family of which I had been previously unaware. I can't wait to try many of the recipes he has incuded. I've been lucky enough to have sampled in person some that his mother used to make. I especially appreciate the fact that Joe's versions on the traditional and not so traditional dishes he has discovered in his travels, are both quick and easy and use ingredients that I can actually find! Well done, and highly recommended!

Dianne K

This is a loving, wise and warm-hearted book - a compelling and thought-provoking look at the author's grandparents' and other relatives' lives as they emigrate from their tiny villages in Italy to rural Southern California in the early 20th Century. I so enjoyed the stories of their journeys, their settling in, and the amusing and sweet memories of their efforts to adapt their sketchy English and use "modern" slang. The family grows and adapts to the new environment, but many of the Old Country customs (and superstitions) survive and are passed along, the good and the not-so-good. The picture that emerges of the extended family gatherings for every major holiday is so compelling that one wishes to be transported right into the middle of it all. We can, however, enjoy a bit of the food...author Pfeiler has included a few delicious-sounding, not overly-complicated recipes for us to enjoy.

The course of the stories also gives us a first-hand look at the life of the young grandson, Joe Pfeiler, born in California and enjoying a rural farm life that is now nearly nonexistent. As he grows in age and understanding, we see the impact of his Italian roots and the intense love the family members feel for each other. We also feel a sense of melancholy for a time and place that has nearly disappeared...the golden pastoral California childhood conveyed in the writing, so rare, fleeting and remembered with longing. There are also those amusing anecdotes treasured by every family -- who could ever forget the home-made electric chair, or the brilliant idea to see how big a flash you could make with a nice big can of gunpowder! Boys o boys, Joe Pfeiler!

It's a lovely book, and I was sad to see it end. Do yourself a favor and read it!

Christine Hess

I enjoyed this book so much! I love the family stories. The events recalled are interesting, but more importantly, they show the dynamics of a family that cares for each other. This also gives us insight of how where we come from influences who we have become. Thank you Joe, your book is such a gift.

Patti Rosenmund

I read this book on vacation and found it to be so loving and kind to the generation who raised us, loved us, yelled at us, and brought us their perspectives of the world to us. Boys oh boys! Wonderful!!!