A trip down memory lane to find a place called home

Homelands: in search of our inherited cities
Amaryllis Gacioppo
Bloomsbury, $29.99

Homelands is described by its editors as part of “memoir and cultural history throughout modern history”, but the reader should be aware that it bears little resemblance to the current popular genre of memoir. Memoirs that are usually built on the writer’s traumatic childhood, years of struggle and turmoil; then a mighty triumph of courage and determination over adversity to achieve personal and more often public success.

In this case, however, Amaryllis Gacioppo has centered her personal story around the confusion she feels as an Australian child of Italian migrants who still have strong ties to their homeland. The desire to know where she truly belongs, she tells us, became more acute when her beloved Nonna Annalisa passed away. With her death, Gacioppo felt blocked.

Statue of the Quattro Canti, in the octagonal piazza Villena dating from 1606, in the center of Palermo.Credit:

Gacioppo’s mother first came to Australia on holiday in the 1980s when she met Gacioppo’s father and married him three months later. When the author was three, her parents moved north from Sydney to an unnamed coastal town where, alongside her brother, she spent her childhood. She writes sparingly about her Australian childhood, except that she always felt dislocated.

She does, however, tell us about several childhood visits to Palermo in Sicily where her family was embraced by aunts, uncles and cousins ​​and, of course, her beloved Nonna. There was no trauma in her childhood except a lingering homesickness, a home she couldn’t find.

In this first book, Gacioppo tells us that in her early twenties, after an absence of 10 years, she returned to Palermo. Is this where she really belongs? In Italy, she recognizes a theme of dislocation that has beset the women in her family.

Amaryllis Gacioppo constantly moves cities, towns, squares and villas, trying to find a reflection of herself.

Amaryllis Gacioppo constantly moves cities, towns, squares and villas, trying to find a reflection of herself.Credit:

Her great-grandmother Rita moved from Turin to Benghazi, Libya, where she married and where Nonna Annalisa was born. Annalisa is then sent to Turin at the start of the Second World War. After the war, the family was reunited in Rome for about four years and eventually moved to Palermo, where Gacioppo’s mother was born in 1957. His mother, followed years later by his grandmother, later moved to Australia. Is this continuous grid – the migratory nature of his family – the reason for his agitation?

Because Gacioppo cannot discover many real details of the lives of her ancestors, she looks for answers in their cities, in the environments that shaped them. She embarks on an odyssey to discover Turin, Benghazi, Rome and Palermo. History, politics, art, literature, psychology, etymology and myth are covered. (The fact that this dense, scholarly book lacks an index and reference list is a distinct flaw.)

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