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Yesterday, I reviewed The Islands of Divine Music by John Addiego, a brilliant debut novel about finding the divine in everyday life that spans five generations of the Verbicaro family and touches upon such themes as immigration and war. (You can read my review here.)

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Addiego about The Islands of Divine Music, and I’m grateful that he was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions. Thank you!

The Islands of Divine Music is your first novel. What was your inspiration? I’m especially curious about the plot line involving Giuseppe and his fascination with Maria.

I had a notion to do something between Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio and Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, two of my favorite books. Magical family stories inspired me, and the idea of many people’s separate vignettes coming together to tell one larger tale was my aim. The Giuseppe and Maria idea was my start, in that I wondered why God might appoint an old geezer to look after a teen mom and her child of a supposed immaculate birth.

The book spans several generations of the Verbicaro family and includes numerous characters. How did you go about creating so many unique characters? Are any of them based on people in your life?

They are mostly based on the language and behaviors of lots of real people I’ve known, including family and friends, especially of my dad’s generation, though it’s all fictional. I think there are personae that reflect aspects of myself throughout, which took my getting a bit older to understand a little better.

The Islands of Divine Music covers many decades and a lot of ground. The two themes that stand out most to me are the immigrant experience and the impact of war. What would you say is the predominant theme?

I had this idea of a family brushing up against various aspects of the divine and the profane, war being the most obvious of the latter. I also had notions of how family constellation plays out, and in this pattern Angelo, the comedian, becomes central. Islands work as separate lives, separate ethnic communities, also as moments of special import; the music, the listening for the divine, is pivotal.

Are you working on another novel? Do you have any plans to revisit the Verbicaro family? Looking at the family tree in the front of the book, there are many family members whose stories were not told.

I am working on novels all the time. I have several manuscripts in something close to finished form. I haven’t specifically thought about more Verbicaro family novels, but I might.

How long did it take to finish The Islands of Divine Music? Could you describe your writing process?

It took a long time for a few reasons. First, the ideas and characters have been with me for decades; second, I wrote a couple of stories that formed the basis of this about ten years ago. In the interim, I wrote other novels and stories and published six short stories that started to form a linked collection, from which this novel finally started to take shape.

What types of books do you most enjoy reading? Who are your favorite authors?

I love Ian McEwan, Anne Tyler, Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez . . . There’s so much great stuff to read. I also love good mysteries by Martin Cruz Smith, sci-fi by Jack McDevitt. I go from literary to mystery and sci-fi often. I read poetry as well, all the time, and go back to Walt Whitman whenever I need a lift.

Any advice to those of us working on our first novels?

First, create a routine time to sit and work. The muse doesn’t always arrive, but hard work needs time you can count on. Second, move on. It’s easy to get stuck on the one great novel you’re writing forever, but it’s better to keep writing new stuff. Later, you can come back to that one novel and revise it with fresh eyes. Third, read good fiction because it’s the only real teacher for writers. Fourth, don’t get stuck trying to land an agent like I did for several years; investigate the independents, read their books to see if yours fits, and query them directly. I read an interview by the editor of Unbridled Books (Greg Michalson), read some of the books Unbridled published, and gave them a try. Michalson is a gem among editors, so I feel very fortunate. Last, don’t give up! You wouldn’t believe all the rejections I’ve had. Well, maybe you would. But believe in yourself.

Mr. Addiego, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! I wish you much success in your writing career!

To celebrate the launch of The Islands of Divine Music, Unbridled Books is offering copies to two lucky readers!
You must have a U.S. address to enter. For one entry, post a comment letting me know why you want to read The Islands of Divine Music. Please make sure you leave an email address if you do not have a blog or your blog profile is unavailable. If I can’t contact you if you win, you won’t be entered. For an additional TWO entries, blog about the giveaway or list it in your sidebar and let me know here that you did so. If you don’t have a blog, email five people and ‘cc’ me on the message. The deadline is Nov. 6, 2008. Good luck!

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate.

© 2008 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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John Addiego’s debut novel, The Islands of Divine Music, was everything I’d hoped for and more. The book follows five generations of the Verbicaro family, beginning with the matriarch, Rosari, whose family is forced to immigrate to the United States from Italy around 1900 when she becomes indirectly involved in a kidnapping plot. Once in the States, she meets Giuseppe Verbicaro when he rescues her and her father after a riot erupts during a labor strike. They have six children and numerous grandchildren, but not all of them play a role in the story.

Each chapter is devoted to the point of view of one family member. My favorite chapters focused on Rosari and Giuseppe’s son Ludovico, who gets himself and his brothers involved with a mob family. But the book really belongs to the family of their youngest son, Joe, who is embarrassed about his immigrant roots and especially his father’s relationship with a Mexican prostitute, Maria.

Finding the divine in all aspects of everyday living is a major theme of the book, and this becomes obvious when Giuseppe takes up with Maria, believing that the baby she is carrying was immaculately conceived. Addiego includes chapters about Maria and Jesus, the supposedly divine child who leads a hard life after Giuseppe’s death. Years later, Joe’s son, Paulie, a disturbed Vietnam veteran, crosses paths with Jesus. Ultimately, Paulie and his brother, Angelo, search for Jesus in Mexico amid stories of Jesus’ healing powers.

Addiego includes stories about other members of the Verbicaro family, including Rosari and Giuseppe’s son, Narciso, and his incredible luck and Joe’s daughter, Penelope, an anti-war activist. I won’t go into more detail about these characters because they and their stories are so unique that you just have to read them for yourselves.

Addiego covers a lot of ground in The Islands of Divine Music. Not only does he touch upon the divine, the immigrant experience, and the impact of the Vietnam War, he also covers fears of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, migrant workers, and special needs children, among other things. But it never seems over the top. Addiego doesn’t always present the history of the Verbicaro family in chronological order, but the story flows from the present to the past and from character to character seamlessly.

The writing is brilliant as well. There are no flowery descriptions; Addiego’s prose is sparse, but he says so much. The chapters are like short stories, brief character sketches, and they would have left me wanting more had they not been stitched together in novel form. (And not wanting in a bad way. I just wouldn’t want to be done with these characters so soon.) They were like opening a box of chocolates; you can have one and be satisfied, but it is comforting to know there are more waiting for you, and all together, they provide a rich, filling treat.

Disclosure:  I received a copy of The Islands of Divine Music from Unbridled Books for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2008 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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