In 1855, eldest brother Francesco is the first to leave; later, after experiencing severe food shortages and illness, he would write in a letter to his father “I would not wish this trip on anyone.” Six years later, Virgilio chooses the adventure of journeying to California, along with “hundreds of Swiss-Italian Emigrants who had taken off for [the] state,” eventually being joined by Alessandro. Readers will appreciate the opportunity to compare the brothers’ different journeys, as well as life in both Australia and America from the viewpoint of the same family. Images throughout the narrative provide clarification and context for the Rotanzi brothers, including a family tree and maps of important places like Australia and the Ticino Districts, in addition to numerous photos, portraits, and various documents, such as advertisements and handwritten letters.
Though this account will most interest readers specifically interested in the emigration of Swiss-Italians, Virgilio’s life in California naturally intersects with other facets of American history, including the Civil War, discrimination against Chinese workers, and the Ghirardelli chocolate and soda factories. The Rotanzi family is the main focus of the narrative, but Geary adeptly weaves in the experiences of other immigrants, ensuring anyone fascinated by the experience of emigration to the U.S. will find revealing and resonant.
Takeaway: A fascinating study of the 19th century American immigrant experience, drawn from letters between three Swiss-Italian brothers and their father.
Great for fans of: Leo Schelbert ‘s America Experienced: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Accounts of Swiss Immigrants to the United States, Howard Blum’s The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush.
Design and typography: A-
Marketing copy: A