By Al Kemp, Managing Editor
Luisa Livorno Ramondo grew up enthralled by the stories her mother and father would share about their journey out of Torino, Italy, and their arrival in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia in the late 1960s.
As a young child, she said, she felt like a bit of an outsider caught between her Italian heritage and the promise of American prosperity – the girl who brought an anchovy sandwich for lunch while her schoolmates brought peanut butter and jelly.
She said she knew long ago that her mother’s journey out of poverty and into a new land was worthy of a book, and she spent nearly a decade trying to put those events into words, finally gaining traction in 2020 with the help of a developmental editor connected with the Creator Institute at Georgetown University.
While the coronavirus pandemic raced across the globe, Ramondo wrote with renewed vigor, and within a year produced a manu-script for her first novel, “Beyond the Cobble-stones,” which she calls her “passion project” inspired by her mother’s recollections of her own childhood as one of 10 children in a family struggling to get by in World War II-era Italy.
The protagonist of “Beyond the Cobble-stones” is Claudia Valentino, a re-imagined version of the author’s mother Antonietta, who yearns for a life beyond the hardscrabble existence in her small village, where she is no stranger to hunger, hardship, loss, trauma and occasional bombing raids by German warplanes.
From a very young age, Claudia aspires to a better life, but her mother sternly chides her for “filling your head with these ideas than can’t happen.”
But Claudia’s persistence and resolve are stronger than her many obstacles, and she is drawn to a future of infinite possibility on distant shores far from her tiny village and its impossibly narrow streets.
“I made a few things up along the way to make it interesting, but the towns and general path are true,” the author said. “I fictionalized the character names, but they are almost all based on real people. And my mother did make the trip to the U.S. ahead of her family with one of her sisters, arranging for the rest to come over at a later date. However, I was concerned about getting all the facts straight in order to write a memoir, so I made it historical fiction instead.”
And while historical fiction in the hands of a less skilled storyteller can come off as dry or turgid, Ramondo’s prose gleams and glistens as she spins Claudia’s coming-of-age story. She evokes heartfelt emotion and dramatic tension with ease and confidence, re-creating events in vivid fashion and composing dialogue in voices that flow naturally with the narrative, embedded in the story like the cobblestones that are embedded in the village street.
The author said one event that helped kick-start the book was her 2018 trip with her father Leonardo to the home country, where she was able to sit in silence on the very same cobblestone alley where her mother grew up, recording her impressions on her laptop computer. Her mother’s old photograph of that narrow alley, in a canyon of stone dwellings, serves as the book’s cover.
Ramondo lives with her husband and three sons in Bryn Mawr, Pa., where she works as a real estate agent. She has begun researching her second novel, which will be a sequel to her first.
Purchase “Beyond the Cobblestones” at amazon.com. Get in touch with the author or learn more about the book at luisalivornoramondo.com.