In college, Pia Santore dreamed of going to New York and taking the Big Apple by storm with her younger sister Erica. Instead, Pia has arrived in Astoria, Queens, with a prestigious journalism internship at a celebrity magazine. . .and without Erica. Though the neighborhood has an abundance of appeal—including the delectable confections sold at her Aunt Antoniella's bakery—the pain of losing Erica a few years ago still feels fresh.
Pia's arrival coincides with an unexpected sighting. Italian movie icon Francesca Donata is rumored to be staying nearby, every bit as voluptuous and divaesque as in her heyday. With the help of a handsome local artist with ties to Francesca's family, Pia convinces the legend to grant her a series of interviews—even traveling to her house in Rome. In the eternal city, Pia begins to unearth the truth behind the star's fabled romances and tangled past. And here too, where beauty and history mingle in every breathtaking view, and hope shimmers in the Trevi fountain and on the Spanish Steps, Pia gradually learns how to love and when to let go. For when in Rome, you may find your carissima—your dearest one—and you may even find yourself. . .
Rosanna Chiofalo is a first-generation Italian American whose parents emigrated from Sicily to New York in the early 1960s. She is the author of Bella Fortuna and is currently hard at work writing her next novel. She and her husband live in New York City.
Advance Praise For Carissima
"What a glorious novel this is. It's a celebration of life, love and unlikely friendship through the eyes of two very different women. Yet their similarities bind them together and will endear them to readers long after the last page is turned. Bravissima for Carissima!" --Susan Wiggs, # 1 New York Times bestselling author
"Fantastico! I couldn't put it down!" --Lisa Jackson, # 1 New York Times bestselling author
Praise for Bella Fortuna
"Chiofalo brings the Italian immigrant community and neighborhoods richly to life." —Publishers Weekly
"Reading Rosanna Chiofalo's depiction of a modern Italian-American family is like digging into a fresh bowl of pasta—warm, welcome, and satisfying. A deeply felt debut that affirms the importance of friends and family—Italian-style." --Lisa Verge Higgins, author of The Proper Care and Maintenance of Friendship
"Well-drawn characters. . .A charmer." —BookPage
"Sometimes tough, sometimes tender, always heartfelt and honest, Bella Fortuna is a lively, finely-stitched tale of life and love, family and friendship, and a zest for cose Italiane!" --Peter Pezzelli, author of Home to Italy
"Chiofalo's debut is an inspiring read about second chances with love after tremendous heartbreak. . . Readers with Italian-American backgrounds will definitely eat this one up!" —RT Book Reviews
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By ROSANNA CHIOFALO
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Rosanna Chiofalo
All rights reserved.
Since I was a baby, the sound of the ocean's waves crashing against the shoreline has lulled me to sleep. We live in the idyllic seaside town of Carlsbad, California. I love the beach and never thought I could see myself moving away. But that was before, when my younger sister Erica was still alive.
Erica and I had spent most of our childhood playing on the beach. But since her death, I've avoided it as much as possible. My father insists on still having the occasional picnic here, which I don't understand because we're not that happy family unit anymore. We're fractured now.
Whenever we have one of these picnics, my father refuses to let me stay home. So we go through the motions. I can tell my mother and brother aren't into it either. We play along for my father's sake. Maybe continuing this one family tradition is his only hope of holding on to some sense of normalcy. But we all know our family will never be normal again.
So here I am, alone on the beach. I need to walk the shoreline one last time. For I have no idea if I'll ever come back. Hell, I can't even stand to be in my home state. Everything reminds me of my sister. And when the memories return, my panic attacks take over, leaving me gasping for air and desperate to escape.
Erica died when I was twenty-one, the summer before my senior year of college. I'd been too distraught to go back to school until three years after her death. Though I'd started to pick up the pieces of my life when I finally felt ready to return to college, I'm far from healed. It's a tough pill for me to swallow since I'm now twenty-five years old and had always envisioned myself having my act together by this age. And just in case I've deluded myself into thinking that I am fine, the panic attacks are a reminder that I still haven't come to terms with losing my sister. As I stare out at the waves, her voice calls out to me. I want to push the memory out of my mind as I've become accustomed to doing, but for some reason today, I don't.
"Pia! Pia! Wait up for me!" Erica struggled to keep up with me as I ran along the shore, trying not to lose sight of the seal we'd spotted swimming in the ocean. I ignored Erica, too intent on chasing the seal.
"Look! Look!" I was startled to hear Erica's voice just a few feet behind me. Her little legs had managed to catch up to me. I looked to where she was pointing. Another seal was swimming from the west, coming to meet the first one we'd seen. The first seal screeched an ear-piercing greeting to its mate, which soon returned the call. Then they began diving in and out of the water several times before they swam farther out into the ocean. We watched them until their glistening bodies melted into the waves.
"I wish I were a seal," Erica said in a tiny voice. I turned to look at her.
"Why would you want to be a seal? You hate getting wet!" I laughed and patted Erica's arm playfully.
"Well, if I were a seal and that's all I was used to, then I wouldn't mind getting wet." Though she was eight years old, she often managed to surprise my family with her perceptive comments.
"Has anyone ever told you how smart you are?"
"Yeah." Erica said this in a very matter-of-fact way and shrugged her shoulders like it was no big deal. Only children can get away with such conceit.
"So, you still haven't told me why you want to be a seal."
"I wish I could swim as far out as they do and see the bottom of the ocean. It's a whole other world. I want to know what they see."
"You can take scuba lessons when you're older."
"You wear a special costume and a mask with a breathing tank attached that allows you to breathe under water. Kyle has a book on scuba diving. I'll show you the pictures in it later."
"Let's go home now. I want to see what a scuba looks like." Erica placed her hand in mine and began leading me back toward our house. I looked out toward the horizon, hoping to see the seals again, but there was no sign of them.
We saw the seals three more times over the next five years, but afterward, we never saw them again. Other residents had told us they'd seen a seal here and there, but Erica and I kept missing them. I remember how magical it felt that first day we saw that seal flipping in the ocean, the sunlight reflecting off its slick, gleaming skin.
Tears are rolling down my cheeks as I stare out into the ocean that my sister had loved so much and that in the end had taken her life. Erica had been swimming when she drowned. It had been a tremendous shock. Of all the ways she could've died, drowning would not have even made the list. I'm still baffled. She'd been a strong swimmer and had even been on the diving team in high school. A few people on the beach had seen Erica waving her arms in distress. A surf instructor who had been giving lessons swam out and brought her lifeless body back to shore. A doctor jogging on the beach had tried to resuscitate her with CPR, but it was too late. The sole explanation my family and I could think of was that she had swum out too far and had lost her energy.
It was so unfair. Erica had been two years younger than me. We were really tight, even though we couldn't have been more opposite. Unlike me, she had been outgoing and popular. Her extracurricular activities had included the photography and art club, diving team, student council, and yearbook committee. Painting was her passion. She loved to paint landscapes, especially the ocean.
We were so close that I'd chosen to stay in California and commute to college rather than go away and be apart from Erica. We'd even attended the same school, University of California, San Diego. We had made a pact that she would transfer and go to art school in New York after I graduated from UCSD. We were going to get our own apartment and take the Big Apple by storm. We couldn't wait. Now I was headed to New York—alone.
I've wanted to be a writer since I was a kid and had fantasized of going to New York City to work on a magazine. But I'd never intended on making it permanent. Erica and I had loved California too much to permanently relocate. We'd just wanted to get some solid experience before we returned home and started our own magazine. Erica was going to handle the more artistic elements—planning the layout, taking the photographs—while I worked primarily on the editorial side.
Part of me feels good that I've decided to carry through on the plans that Erica and I had. But it's taken me three years to realize that if an afterlife does exist and Erica can see me, she'd be upset that I didn't follow through on our dream. But then there's a part of me that just can't help but be incredibly sad that she's not here to share this experience with me. I'm scared. When Erica was alive, by my side, I'd felt invincible. We'd often completed each other's thoughts, and whenever we collaborated on a project, the synergy couldn't be beat.
In the fall, when I had applied to several magazines for internships, I had begged God to let me land one of them. I could only think about finally escaping California and all of the memories. But now that I'm really headed to New York, the anxiety of failing has set in. I know I've placed this enormous amount of pressure on myself. But how can I not? I have to succeed in New York—for if I fail at this internship and never go through with starting my own magazine, I'll have let Erica down.
In April, I had two Skype interviews with magazines in New York. I found out a month later that I'd gotten the internship at Profile magazine.
Profile features interviews with everyone from celebrities to high-powered CEOs and politicians to fascinating everyday people. Unlike the trashy rag mags, Profile is the magazine Hollywood stars long to be in. Receiving an interview with Profile means you have arrived.
I'm happy to have landed such a prestigious internship, and I hope it'll distract me from the pain of losing my sister. My father has tried to convince me to stay. I feel guilty that I'm leaving my parents, especially my mother, who's retreated into her own world since Erica died and barely speaks to any of us. I wonder if she'll even notice that I'm gone. My brother Kyle lives near my parents and will be around to keep an eye on both of them. Though Kyle wasn't an Italian name that honored my parents' heritage, my father had always loved it and decided it would be fitting for his firstborn. Kyle is thirty years old and works as a civil engineer. I know I can rely on my brother to take care of my parents until I come back—that is, if I ever return. I can't think about the far distant future right now. I want to focus solely on the present and my burgeoning career as a writer.
With this last thought, I say good-bye to the beach that I've seen almost every day of my life, ready to begin a new chapter in New York City.
"Signorina, per favore."
"Ahh! Signorina Donata. Mi scusi! Io non l'avevo riconosciuta. Ti adoro molto."
"Grazie, grazie. Si, un espresso."
The Alitalia flight attendant's hands shake as she pours my cup of espresso. Naturally, I am pleased that she recognized me, but I am still piqued that she called me "signora" instead of "signorina."
The flight attendant places my cup of espresso on my table, then nods her head and walks away, rolling her cart to the next passenger. We still have not taken off. Glancing out my window, I see five other planes waiting in front of mine. Because of inclement weather, my flight to New York has been delayed by three hours. It is ten a.m. My flight was supposed to have departed at seven a.m. The passengers began complaining after an hour, asking to be taxied back to the terminal instead of sitting on a plane in the baking sun. The crew decided to bribe everyone with refreshments.
"Excuse me, passengers. We apologize again for the delay. We have just received word that we will be able to take off in about ten minutes."
Sighing deeply, I return my attention to the letter I was reading before the flight attendant interrupted me.
I need your assistance with a delicate matter and am asking you to come to New York. I would rather not get into the details in this letter. If you must know more before coming, we can talk on the phone. If you choose not to come, of course I will respect your wishes and not ask you again. All I ask is that you please do let me know either way what your decision is.
"Passengers, please return to your seats and fasten your seat belts. We've been cleared for takeoff."
The flight attendant's voice interrupts me. But it is not like this is the first time I am reading the letter. In fact, I have read it four times, hoping to decipher more of its vague message. Folding the letter, I place it in my purse. It has been years since I have traveled on a commercial flight. But of course, my days of flying on a private jet are over. At least none of the passengers in my first-class cabin have bothered me. A few took a second glance, but that was it. My star is beginning to fade—at least in Italy. I suppose I have myself to blame since I stayed out of the limelight for so long. But I was tired. I needed to rest and contemplate.
Peering out my window, I see we are still low enough that I can make out the sand formations that form the island of Sicily. Of course it is another beautiful summer day on the island. Even from my elevated height, I can see the sun shimmering over Sicily's deep azure waters. Mount Etna looms in the distance, adding to the surreal panorama. After living for more than a decade in Rome, I had had enough of city life and ached to return to my home. My villa in Taormina, Sicily, has been a much-needed balm for me. But my cravings to be loved by the world have not died altogether.
On this trip to New York, my focus will be on someone who once was very special to me and whose affection I lost. This will perhaps be my greatest role: reclaiming that love.
I haven't been to New York since I was eleven. My first and only trip to the Big Apple had left a deep impression, and though I'd always wanted to return, it just never seemed like the right time. My aunt had offered to pick me up at the airport, but I'd refused. She doesn't drive, and there's no need for her to go to all that trouble of taking a cab to the airport. As my taxi pulls up in front of Zia Antoniella's bakery, my heart tugs a bit as my first memory of entering my aunt's shop with my mother and sister flashes through my mind.
The scent of the freshly baked goods immediately mesmerized me as my mouth watered; I longed to try one of the brightly colored pastries and cookies that greeted me from behind their display cases. Zia Antoniella wasted no time in plopping into Erica's and my hands two fat, chocolate-covered cannoli. I'd never tasted anything like it. Although I felt full halfway through eating my cannoli, I still finished it. My mother looked at me and patted my cheek. "È molto delizioso, giusto?"
I nodded my head. Every day Zia Antoniella introduced Erica and me to a new Italian pastry: sfogliatelle, pasticiotti, baba rums. For a child who loved sweets, this was like going to a magical kingdom where everything tasted good and you could have it all. Erica's favorites were the rainbow-colored cookies. My favorites were the cannoli and the S-shaped biscotti flavored with anise extract. My mother restricted how much candy and cake we could have at home in California, but for some reason here in New York she let us eat any dessert we wanted.
Remembering this first trip to New York, I suddenly realize why my mother had been so lenient. She'd wanted Erica and me to try the food from her country that wasn't readily available on the West Coast. My mother had wanted us to know something of the culture she'd left behind in Italy when she married my father and moved to the United States.
My mother is from Abruzzo, and my father is from Messina, Sicily. Named Lidia, my mother is the youngest of four children—all girls. Zia Antoniella is the oldest. My father, Bruno, had been born in the United States, but his parents had only emigrated from Messina after they got married. He and my mother met when he took a Perillo tour of Italy and visited Abruzzo.
Tears sting my eyes as I get out of the cab. Will the mother I once knew ever return? I've already lost a sister, but since Erica's death, it also has felt like I've lost my mother.
I pay my cab fare and inhale deeply as I roll my luggage to the entrance of Antoniella's Bakery. Zia's business and her home are in Astoria, Queens, which is about a fifteen-minute subway ride from midtown Manhattan. Before I walk in, I strain my neck to see if Zia Antoniella is behind the sales counter. She's nowhere in sight. Maybe she stayed home today? But no, this is Zia, who hardly ever takes a sick day from her business. The woman loves to work.
A young girl, wearing an apron with the embroidered words "Antoniella's Bakery," is bringing a cup of cappuccino to one of the seated patrons. I glance once more toward the sales counter and see a shock of frizzy hair sticking up and moving from side to side. Zia!
Erica and I had stopped calling her Zia Antoniella after our first day of visiting her when we were kids. It was too long for us to say without getting tongue twisted, so she simply went by "Zia." We also preferred the Italian word for "aunt" over its English counterpart since "zia" sounded whimsical to a child's ears.
Sure enough, Zia soon comes around the corner of her pastry display case as she mops the floor feverishly, her head bobbing along with the mop's movements. I take after my mother and Zia with my honey-blond hair. But after decades of dyeing her hair, Zia no longer has the same lustrous golden-blond hue from her youth. Now her hair is more of a dark blond, sapped of all its moisture and resembling matted tumbleweeds rolling in the desert.
I attempt to enter the shop quietly, but the wind chimes hanging above the door jangle loudly, interrupting Zia's mad dance with her mop. She looks up.
Excerpted from Carissima by ROSANNA CHIOFALO. Copyright © 2013 Rosanna Chiofalo. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Fantastico! I couldn't put it down! —Lisa Jackson, # 1 New York Times bestselling author
Reading Rosanna Chiofalo's depiction of a modern Italian-American family is like digging into a fresh bowl of pastawarm, welcome, and satisfying. A deeply felt debut that affirms the importance of friends and familyItalian-style. —Lisa Verge Higgins, author of The Proper Care and Maintenance of Friendship
Well-drawn characters…A charmer.” BookPage
“Sometimes tough, sometimes tender, always heartfelt and honest, Bella Fortuna is a lively, finely-stitched tale of life and love, family and friendship, and a zest for cose Italiane! —Peter Pezzelli, author of Home to Italy
What a glorious novel this is. It's a celebration of life, love and unlikely friendship through the eyes of two very different women. Yet their similarities bind them together and will endear them to readers long after the last page is turned. Bravissima for Carissima! —Susan Wiggs, # 1 New York Times bestselling author