Author Alicia J. Winget offers a compelling take on the familiar coming-to-America theme in Out of the Rubble, tracing the immigrant experience of Michigan restaurateur Lino Borraccio.
Borraccio was born on Dec. 27, 1941, in San Vittore del Lazio, a cloistered Italian mountain village dating to the 11th century. Although it was just 20 days after Pearl Harbor and war raged across Europe, his earliest life was seemingly untouched by the chaos. But soon, the war’s atrocities reached the village. The author’s impressive research chronicles WWII from the perspective of these rural Italians as they suffered unspeakable violence.
In the war’s aftermath, Lino’s boyhood was marked by extreme poverty, violence and despair. With clean water scarce, villagers drank mosquito-laden water that had collected in bomb craters. Malaria and typhus were rampant. Writes the author: “Lino remembers children coming to school with cloths under their chins and tied atop their head, covering swollen ears. He knew those children… would die within a couple weeks from this nameless disease…”
Borraccio’s life has a clear demarcation point as he, with his mother and stepbrothers, leave Italy for America in 1958. On the cusp of adulthood, he enters a bustling post-war America, learning to navigate the language and cultural barriers.
Winget’s recounting of Borraccio’s U.S. life is less effective than her war narrative, partly because so much happens as he marries, raises children and holds a dizzying array of jobs, all in the rapidly changing 1960s and ’70s. (He eventually opens a successful restaurant in 1980.) She rushes through events without exploring their impact. For instance, during the Detroit riots, Borrraccio flashes back to his wartime childhood as he tries to convince his stepfather to flee the city. There’s a lot to unpack there, but it’s given little more than two paragraphs.
At a mere 140 pages, Borraccio’s story truncates even the war years more than readers might like. However, his front row seat to modern history makes the book worth a look.
Also available as an ebook.