Friday, December 11, 2020


Still Life With Saints is a sequel to the 2016 The Ghosts of Italy, and continues the journey Angela Paolantonio began in her first memoir of her old country Italian family roots.  In this continuation, she moves from Los Angeles to the village of Calitri, where Italian women take her under their wings and help her explore her heritage.

There she continues her life and discoveries, transporting readers into a life journey that captures the village's culture, nuances, and sights and sounds with lovely descriptive passages: "How do I feel when I have to leave the place that is now running in my veins? I am lost. To walk the village each day is to walk within an Alan Lomax recording. The sights and sounds are authentic, the traditions deep and true. They are in the pastoral lilt of women’s voices in summer, heard from behind a beaded doorway, or men’s acapella singing in a grotto in winter, the tufa stone acting as a natural acoustic enhancer. I am transported by their longing..."

The introduction, in which she returns from a Christmas holiday in that village to feel newly lost in her Los Angeles environment, will feel quite familiar to any who have journeyed to another place, only to find its lure more powerful than the abode they once called home.

As Still Life With Saints returns to that world and explores it more fully and deeply, readers are transported by discoveries that lead to inevitable change: "One thing rang true and had been coming on for some time: the more I found myself embedded in the traditional ways of her old village—a novice to the slow-cultured pious life of the bundled women on via Fontana—the more I wanted to return to it, to live it."

Too many memoirs about such journeys gloss over the real day-by-day challenges of cultural transformation. One of the strengths to this account is that it pulls no punches, but delves right into that process: "The everyone’s fantasy of “living in Italy” was quickly dispelled by the culture shock and differences of this world to mine, or even to what Americans think as Italian life. Los Angeles’ Mulholland Drive to the Centro Storico and the legend of water; from the fountains of via Fontana to the Colorado River and the engineering feat of bringing water to the village and Los Angeles, religious, pagan, and all in between the challenges of living here then. No American shower was the least of it in my new, two-room stone house. There was no heat, no landline, no internet, no TV or radio, up to love loss and reverse immigration consequences. Leaving not the village but the USA behind."

The result is a powerful survey of family roots, national ties, and the journey Angela Paolantonio embarks on as she moves between two very different worlds; one of them both familiar and alien at the same time.

From myths and legends to romance and a form of 'reincarnated soul journey', Still Life With Saints proves even more captivating than its haunting predecessor The Ghosts of ItalyIt's a top recommendation as a powerful memoir both for prior readers and newcomers interested in cross-cultural encounters and life changes. 

D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review