1943. New Orleans. Rose Marino lives with her Sicilian immigrant parents and helps in the family grocery store. Her older brother and sister both joined the Army, and Rose prays for their safety as World War II rages overseas. Her parents expect Rose to marry a local boy and start a family. But she secretly dreams of being more like her fiercely independent widowed godmother. Behind her parents' back, Rose lands a job at the shipyard, where she feels free and important for the first time in her life.
When the parish priest organizes a goodwill mission to visit Italian prisoners of war at a nearby military base, Rose and her vivacious best friend, Marie, join the group. There, Rose falls for Sal, a handsome and intelligent POW. Italy has switched sides in the war, so the POWs are allowed out to socialize, giving Rose and Sal a chance to grow closer. When Rose gets a promotion at work, she must make an agonizing choice: follow a traditional path like Marie or keep working after the war and live on her own terms.
Inspired by little-known historical events and set to a swing-era soundtrack, The Italian Prisoner is an engrossing story of wartime love, family secrets, and a young woman's struggle to chart her own course at an inflection point in American history.Finalist- William Faulkner- William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition- 2019 Novel-in-Progress.
About the Author
Elisa M. Speranza is the granddaughter of Irish and Italian immigrants, raised Catholic, and educated by nuns. Many years ago, she heard a friend’s story about his parents: an Italian prisoner of war and a French Quarter Sicilian woman who met during World War II in New Orleans. Fascinated by this hidden chapter in history, she became determined to find out more. A Boston native, Elisa came to Jazz Fest in 2002 and forgot to go home. She lives in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans with Jon Kardon. The Italian Prisoner is her first novel.
“The repercussions of WWII are lovingly rendered through one woman’s story, with an endearing cast of characters who all feel like family by the end.”—LALITA TADEMY, New York Times best-selling author of Oprah’s Book Club pick Cane River, Red River, and Citizens Creek
“The Italian Prisoner is a stunningly detailed, fast-paced novel that unveils a largely unknown part of America’s World War II history. Ms. Speranza’s first novel is a compelling mix of freshness and familiarity, using a female rites-of-passage narrative to transport readers to 1940s New Orleans and to bring alive the timeless challenges of living in a nation at war. The memorable main character, Rose Marino, tugs at the hearts of readers as she weaves her unique tapestry of independence with threads of hope and courage.” —ANN HAGEDORN, award-winning author of Beyond the River, Savage Peace, Sleeper Agent and more
"Elisa Speranza's heartfelt and exuberant debut is both an essential contribution to the treasure trove of Italian American fiction and a transporting page-turner. I want everyone in my family to meet Rose, our inspiring heroine, whose extraordinary story will stay with me for a long time." --CHRISTOPHER CASTELLANI, author of Leading Men
“A dazzling World War II love story set in New Orleans that will pull you in from the very first paragraph. The characters have compelling depth, and the setting is so well described that you will be able to feel, hear, and smell the locations throughout the novel. But it is Rose’s journey that tugs at your heart. The Italian Prisoner is a marvelous debut novel.”—JENNIFER SMITH TURNER, award-winning author of Child Bride, named the Best Ebook of 2020 by the Black Caucus of The American Library Association.
"Painting an intimate portrait of the Italian-American community in WWII New Orleans, Speranza crafts a lovely coming-of-age tale. With true-to-life family dynamics and the drama of first love, the author invites us to take a passeggiata alongside her heroine Rose." —SHAUNNA J. EDWARDS, co-author of The Thread Collectors
“Prepare to fall in love with Rose and those in her orbit in this tender coming-of-age story -- intimate historical fiction at its page-turning best.”—PAMELA ROTNER SAKAMOTO, author of Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds
“The Italian Prisoner is a refreshing addition to the historical women’s fiction bookshelf. Speranza has written a captivating dive into New Orleans’s Italian-American community as seen through the eyes of a young woman figuring out how to balance family, friendship, faith, and love against the backdrop of World War Two.”—KAIA ALDERSON, author of Sisters in Arms
“The Italian Prisoner carries us to New Orleans during World War II. Speranza’s finely-crafted prose captures all the vibrancy, cultural tribalism, musical swing, and grinding fear of that era. At the novel’s center is young Rose; caught up in global anxieties while, at the same time, struggling with aching, impatient questions about love, self, and the tearing need for independence. This is a beautiful book that will touch anyone who ever dared want more of life. I so admire The Italian Prisoner and thank Elisa Speranza for sharing her wonderful vision and insight.” —CHARLES FORREST JONES, author of The Illusion of Simple
"Elisa Speranza has gifted us the charming story of a young Sicilian woman during the years of WWI in New Orleans as she copes with a distant mother, a conflicted romance with an unlikely admirer, and an evolving world which beckons her to blossom. The author's keen eye for the history of those years are evident as delightful details of the city at war abound. Within this framework, personal tragedy and family secrets erupt to provide the reader with an intimate connection to the lovely protagonist, Rose. She could easily be one of us. What an enjoyable read!”—BRIAN ALTOBELLO, author of Whiskey, Women, and War: How the Great War Shaped Jim Crow New Orleans
It is one thing to read about history, and it's another to experience it—In reading Elisa Speranza's The Italian Prisoner life during WW11 in America breaths on every page. Speranza transports us back in time to follow the coming of age of Rose while simultaneously telling us of the not widely known history of Italian prisoners at Jackson Barracks, Louisiana. The sounds, tastes, and smells of an Italy-infused New Orleans interweave with secrets, love, friendship, and loss, along with a women's evolution to independence and the struggles that come with it. Speranza's writing is compelling, atmospheric, and refined. A truly magnificent read. —DIANNE C. BRALEY, author of The Silence in the Sound