Book Review: The Islands of Divine Music, by John Addiego

A partial summary from the publisher of Islands of Divine Music, Unbridled Books:

The Islands of Divine Music is a novel of five generations of an Italian-American family finding its place in the New World. Against a backdrop of Immigration, Prohibition, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, and the new millennium, five generations of the Verbicaro family make their way from Southern Italy to San Francisco as each character brushes up against some aspect of the divine.

Author John Addiego tells the story of these five generations in a series of 12 vignettes, each spotlighting a different member of the family. I have read where some reviewers had problems with this format, the chronic fading in and fading out as each of the stories are told. I didn’t find it disconnected at all, and I think Addiego does a fine job at getting to the heart of each character despite such limited time with them. I also appreciated how history and culture serve as a backdrop to many of the character’s experiences, emotions, actions, and reactions.

I did, however, struggle with what I felt was a somewhat dreary overall tone in the book. I understand the intention was to show these characters and their (as the book jacket says) “brushes…against some aspect of the divine,” but for me, it seemed as if most of the characters were just passive participants in what life (or the divine?) happened to place in their path. The book cover speaks volumes as to what I felt happened in most cases – the characters were blown this way and that, just hanging on for the ride. With few examples of real personal will or self-determination, many of the characters end up in compromising or tragic situations. Their often unfulfilled and disatisfied lives left me feeling depressed. And in the interest of full disclosure, there was more language and sexual content in this book than I am typically comfortable reading.

I know there is an audience for this book, as many reviewers have been enthusiastic in their praise. I do feel it was well-written and I particularly admire Addiego’s ability to write such generous character analysis with such efficiency (he excells at the “show, don’t tell” mantra). I just could not get past what I felt was a darker reading experience than I was hoping for.

Thank you to Caitlin at Unbridled Books for this review copy!

Book details
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Format: Hardcover
Publish Date: 10/28/08
Pages: 256