I was introduced to this talented, vivacious author by a neighbor and mutual friend last summer. Pauline Spatafora published “Dear Sister – Letters Home To Sicily From War Time America” , the Italian version “Cara Sorella” and “The Absent Mother – A Psycholiterary Study of Virginia Woolf” as well as “Proper Pronunciation Made Easy. “ Pauline’s next book, “Louie’s Place” will be published and ready for sale in the near future. Pauline has appeared in a number of televised interviews and has spoken at length at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute.
This interview took place on October 30, 2014.
I thought “Dear Sister” fascinating and sad. When Anna La Camera-Cacciola died in this book, I cried. I felt sad for days, as if I had lost a family member. Anna’s loneliness and longing for her family were palpable. I felt as if she were a living person, sharing her hopes, dreams and disappointments. So poignant was her story, Anna stepped out of the page, bigger than life and now immortalized by the daughter who loved and missed her. Anna, who died when Pauline was nine years old, was her mother.
Anna LaCamera came from Sicily at the age of thirty to care for the seven living children of her recently deceased older sister, Teresa and her husband, Louis Cacciola. Anna married her deceased sister’s husband shortly after her arrival in America. They had one child together, Pauline Mary (Lina Maria), the author of this book. Since Pauline’s mother died when Pauline was so young, much of what she knows about her mother is from the letters Anna sent to her family in Sicily where she poured out her heart. The story is told through one-sided letters sent to her family in Sicily. Her family members kept the letters and gave them to Pauline after her mother’s death. This is how Pauline came to know of her mother’s struggle.
This is not only an immigrant’s story, but the story of a young woman and the choices she was forced to make within the realm of the social mores of the time. For this reason, this book was used in women’s studies and immigrant studies courses at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, NY where Pauline taught.
Interviewer: Why do you write? Pauline: I write because I love to write; my pen runs smoothly on paper. Writing is the living account of my thoughts and emotions, a solace to me in moments of despair.
Interviewer: What would you like your readers to know? Pauline: Women are strong and the backbone of the family. A mother is with us forever.
Interviewer: Your mother passed away when you were nine and your father passed away when you were fifteen. What did you learn about your mother that shocked you? Pauline: She took money from her husband to send to Europe without her husband’s knowledge.
Interviewer: You’ve mentioned that circumstances took care of you, rather than your mother’s concern for your well-being. What did you mean? Pauline: My mother felt a strong sense of guilt for leaving her country during war-time. Italian women were raped by German soldiers. The people were starving. My mother’s uncle swept up rice thrown at church weddings to eat at home. Her life in America was safe and war-time deprivation was at a minimum compared with that of Europe. Also, the United States and Italy fought against each other at the beginning of WWII until Mussolini was overthrown and Italy fought on the side of the Allies.
Interviewer: What about your mother’s attitude surprised you? Pauline: My mother was very religious and strict so she always complained to my father about me. I was just a little girl.
Interviewer: What did you learn about your mother’s actions from her letters? Pauline: My mother visited Italian and Italian-American prisoners of war held at internment camps in the midwest. She went to see who was there, looking for anyone she might know who she could help. It’s a little known fact that Italians were imprisoned for national security reasons as were the Japanese.
Interviewer: From your mother’s letters, what did you learn about your father? Pauline: I was not born of love. There was a strained relationship between my parents.
Interviewer: From your mother’s letters, what did you learn about your mother’s family? Pauline: They remembered her very well, held her in high regard and were happy to finally meet me. They embraced me out of love for my mother.
Interviewer: What did you learn about your brothers and sisters from the letters? Pauline: My mother was right on target with her assessment of each of them. They continued to live in the same pattern for a lifetime.
Interviewer: Your book was used for immigration and women’s studies at LaGuardia Community College. What perspective set your book apart from others? Pauline: These were untouched letters from a woman who lived it. It personalized the anguish of a young woman leaving and always missing her family and homeland. I learned things about myself and my family that were previously unknown to me.
Interviewer: What do you want your reader to take away from this book? Pauline: To always have faith, no matter how rough things are.
Interviewer: You accomplished quite a lot in your life. You played the accordion at Carnegie Hall and were the youngest child in the children’s orchestra where you were given an award for your solo. You completed your extensive college education as an adult while married and the mother of three children. What most influenced you to become the person you are today? Pauline: Life is often cut short when you marry young but accomplishments were expected, so I naturally continued.
Interviewer: What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment? Pauline: Maintaining strong family ties between Italy and the United States through the writing of the book which stimulated memories and resulted in reunions.
Interviewer: Tell us about your next project. Pauline: My next book, “Louie’s Place” is soon to be published and released in print by Quill Press, Inc. It’s set in 1954 Greenwich Village and follows the lives and adventures of five teenage girls.
Interviewer: You’ve also written about Virginia Woolf. What about her fascinated you? Pauline: “The Absent Mother -A Psycholiterary Study of Virginia Woolf” is an academic study I did for my Master’s dissertation. She was not a lesbian, but rather, sexually abused by her step-brothers. She missed her mother terribly because her mother’s husband took all her attention. So even though she was physically present, Virginia’s mother was emotionally absent.
© 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reprinted or used in any form without express permission from Elaine Donadio Writes.