Weeds Beneath the Open Meadows

Non-Fiction - Memoir
112 Pages
Reviewed on 11/23/2020
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jon Michael Miller for Readers' Favorite

Weeds Beneath the Open Meadows, a memoir by Anna Casamento Arrigo, features memories and ruminations of her father who died when she was only twelve. But her recollections run deep and reveal not only her dad’s rugged Italian persona but those of close family members as well. But even deeper, she reveals her own childhood, thoughts, and feelings hidden by a joyous, often bewildered, and searching mind. Having grown up in the hamlet of Sorrentini, Sicily, she watched her dad, a big, exuberant and feared figurehead, (boxer’s hands) twice married—young Anna’s mother his second. Her dad, once a purveyor of vineyards and orchards there, moves his second family to New Jersey, his first brood already established in Jamestown, New York. Anna watches and learns—her mothers, brothers, the contrast of her new home with the world left behind with its hillsides, its gypsies, its rural citizenry, its often-cruel rituals, animals, and flowers. She recalls all this with intelligence, passion, and poetic grace.

Imagine being a child taken from such a rural place to the streets of Passaic, N.J. You must learn a new language, make new friends. But most importantly, you must learn the rules of an enigmatic dad who is now present most of the time, the jealousies and rivalries in the household, and the very hard work of making ends meet. I really felt young Anna’s mind and imagination working as she misses nothing that goes on around her. Her father, loving and rough, kind and cruel, gentle and autocratic, dies, and the climax of the memoir is his funeral and Anna’s reveries as the Catholic ritual plays out. I felt reality, humanity, joy, and horror—the real life of real people, presented in a stream of fabulous prose. Well, Anna’s best marks in school were in writing (in her new language), and that—her skill with transferring the ordinary into the deeply moving joy of simple truth—is what inspires me most about this memoir; the extraordinary beauty and awe of just being alive, the vast spectrum of its ups and downs. Do not miss this magnificently universal tribute to family, food, love, hope, and Ms. Arrigo's devotion to what is simply and magnificently true.

Foluso Falaye

In Weeds Beneath the Open Meadows, Anna Casamento Arrigo relates what she experienced while growing up as a little Italian immigrant on the "gold-paved" streets of New Jersey in the 1960s: learning how to sew linings with her mother at seven, losing her tough yet caring seventy-seven-year-old father at twelve, witnessing an exorcism and the festivities of the pig slaying days, getting physically and sexually abused, and dreadfully translating for her mom while shopping for coffins. This is the story of how a child is introduced early to a harsh and cold world that fails to care for and pay enough attention to the little ones. However, in spite of her bad experiences, the beauty of the two cultures Anne grew up in and the love that shone through some of her family members fill the heart with joy, hope, and warmth.

Did you ever want to have a deep conversation with a random stranger about their unique story and the different things that brought them to the present moment they find themselves in? Anna Casamento Arrigo delivers this profound, soul-lifting experience in a book served with beautifully garnished Italian meals, funerals celebrated like festivals and the wonderings of a child who is just discovering the world. From a seemingly poetic and encompassing start to a climactic, bittersweet ending, Weeds Beneath the Open Meadows is a touching and compelling biography that will leave you with a jumble of emotions. I felt happy, enraged, moved, and sympathetic, but most of all, I was glad to read Anna Casamento Arrigo's amazing story.

Vincent Dublado

Author and poet Anna Casamento Arrigo brings a powerful memoir that will resonate with all of us. Weeds Beneath the Open Meadows follows the author in her formative years, beginning with her journey from Sicily to New Jersey that brought a cultural shock as she learns to navigate the new world that she inhabits. For a young girl who is growing up, leaving the land of her birth is not easy, especially when leaving behind the little things that give great joy in favor of a land that promises opportunity but is obsessed with possessions. A deeply cerebral memoir that examines the interpretation of truth based on experience, it takes you on a journey in decoding the mystery and enigma of love and the dark side of the human heart.

Weeds Beneath the Open Meadows illustrates how a young girl can thrive in a new world she is not accustomed to but never forgetting who she is and where she came from. Anna Casamento Arrigo hypnotically blends her narrative with poetry that captures the rationale of her thoughts. She has a way of winning your heart in those moments when she recalls her fond memories, but she can also jolt you into shocking moments when she provides commentaries on assimilation, alienation, and abuse. True to her experience, Anna Casamento Arrigo finds paradigms in her thoughts—paradigms that explore the objectivity of truth. Poetic in its construction, there is no doubt that this memoir will appeal to adult readers.

Lesley Jones

In Weeds Beneath the Open Meadows by Anna Casamento Arrigo, Anna is only 12 years of age when she loses her elderly father, Salvatore. As she tries to come to terms with her father's death, she takes us back through the events leading up to her stolen innocence. Brought up in a small village called Sorrenti in Sicily, Anna never knew why her father made frequent trips to the United States and knew never to ask. Her father ruled the house with a rod of iron and Anna and her siblings learned how to become invisible. They also learned to stay silent during the frequent beatings they had to endure. When Anna was seven the family moved to Jamestown, U.S. where she had to learn a new language and to adapt quickly to the different culture. Anna was also forced to grow up quickly when her innocence was cruelly stolen by an older boy and others. She questioned whether this brutal abuse was the only form of love she deserved. After all, she was never wanted by her father and believed she had been cursed by gypsies many years before. Throughout all the beatings, abuse, and abandonment, Anna remained loyal to her parents and tried to salvage as much happiness from her childhood as she could. As she watches her father finally at peace, Anna wonders what her future will hold and if she will ever find peace herself.

The narrative throughout this memoir flows so beautifully, it feels like Anna Casamento Arrigo is talking directly to you. She certainly has a talent for storytelling and drawing the reader directly into the world of the characters portrayed. Every event is depicted with vivid and colorful descriptiveness, it brings such a powerful realism to her story. This memoir is honest, innocent, and wholesome. The abuse Anna had to entire and witness was very hard to read and there were moments where I had to take a moment to compose myself. The relationship between Anna and her siblings was beautifully described as they escaped the horrors of their home life with normal childhood games. Weeds Beneath the Open Meadows really highlights how a child faced with such continuous, sadistic torture will become accustomed to such abuse and see it as normal behavior. It is hard to read how any parent can harm their child but the beatings she received from her mother were the most chilling to read. Anna's impeccable manners, virtuous behavior, and forgiveness of those who hurt her were so inspirational. She is a true hero and I cannot believe this is her first memoir.