Reviewed by SUSAN JACOBS
Angelina. From Stromboli to D'urville Island: A family's story
A nation’s sense of identity lies in awareness of its cultural roots and many Pakeha New Zealanders are flocking to archives here and in London to learn more about where they came from.
Among the significant minority of non-British Europeans who emigrated to New Zealand, Italian settlers from the actively volcanic island of Stromboli close to Sicily provide a rich, untapped source of stories. Those Strombolani who ended up farming on D’Urville Island in the Marlborough Sounds are the subject of this book by a descendant, Gerard Hindmarsh, who has spent 10 years researching his family history.
In recreating the story of his grandparents, Vincenzo and Angelina Moleta, Hindmarsh makes no apology for taking literary licence and producing a work of “faction” between thorough research into the historical context of Italian migration and the family stories heard at the knee of his beloved grandmother.
In fact, he writes best when he imagines himself inside his subjects’ heads, reproducing pithy dialogue and showing an acute eye for detail.
Structured through the alternating accounts of Vincenzo and Angelina, the early chapters set in Stromboli have a sparkling authenticity and, through the eyes of its principal characters, provide a fascinating glimpse into the mentality and mores of the islanders.
But what is a strength in the early chapters can pall when the family reaches D’Urville Island and the author’s need to furnish us with wide-ranging information takes precedence over keeping in character.
While the information is interesting it can have the bland quality of contemporary hindsight that could not, imaginably, come from the perceptions of either couple.
The two Moleta brothers and their wives and children lived on the island, sheep farming, fishing and maintaining easy relations with local Maori. In fact, Angelina’s strongest friendship is with a Maori neighbour, Wetekia, to the extent she spoke Maori before learning English.
Both families lost children, mostly because they couldn’t get off the island to a doctor. But a rift between the two brothers, continuing well after both families moved to Island Bay in Wellington, clouded their lives. The underlying reasons for the feud and a notable incident, a march through Wellington of black-shirted Italians to support Mussolini, are omitted although fortunately the family, who kept out of politics, escaped internment during the war years.
Nonetheless, this book is a substantial addition to the few works that explore the Italian New Zealand connection. Complimenti!
* Susan Jacobs is the author of Fighting With the Enemy: New Zealand POWs and the Italian Resistance.
* Craig Potton Publishing, $29.95