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Sally DiPaula
Once Upon a Time in Baltimore
As children in 1918 Baltimore, Annie, an Irish-American girl, and Vince, the son of Sicilian immigrants, both lose loved ones—Annie’s father and sister to the Spanish flu and Vince‘s brother to an auto accident. The tragedies change how each of them face the world and—after they meet and wed—how they relate to each other. Together and sometimes apart, they overcome discrimination, illness, a family rift, a son going off to war, and marital strains caused by Vince’s ambitions and marital infidelity and Annie’s passivity and fear of change.

Rating: 5 Stars

Title: Once Upon a Time in Baltimore

Author(s): Sally DiPaula

Genre(s): 20th Century Historical Fiction, Family Saga, Multi-cultural

Publisher: Nicholson Books (2023)

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In Sally DiPaula’s Once Upon A Time In Baltimore, a young couple faces the pains and triumphs of life amidst the changing social mores and ever-present challenges of the 20th century.

Throughout decades, this story unfolds to reveal their relationships with extended family, and their lifetime commitment holding against the likes of marital strains, discrimination, war concerns, and health issues. Inevitably, there are moments of pondering about the choices they’ve made and worries over what the future holds.

As an Irish-American girl growing up in Baltimore, young Annie Finnerty suffered the loss of both a parent and sibling. Vince Parisi, the son of Italian immigrants who worked in the restaurant business, also weathered the heartfelt loss of a family member. When the two meet, their definite attraction soon leads Vince and Annie down the expected path of marriage and starting a family.

With the joining of the Italian Parisis and Annie’s Irish-Catholic Finnerty clan, DiPaula includes familiar details to distinguish the contrasting ethnicities.

While momentarily at odds in their courtship, in an attempt to reconcile, Vince delivers a chocolate Easter egg gift to Annie. Here Mrs. Finnerty questions its edibility, inferring that Italians are known to poison their enemies. And while Vince looks upon his Italian relatives as extended family, Annie insists on privacy and separation from them.

Whether family members who succumb to illness or sons going off to war, country club rejections or suspicions of infidelity, DiPaula fills these pages with emotional characters entangled in a bevy of themes from Love and loss, betrayal and heartache, to jealousy and fear.

Once Upon A Time In Baltimore holds many beautiful moments of family life, coupled with just the right amount of sudden and unexpected twists to pull the reader in.

Annie deals with panic attacks, frequently overwhelmed by the world around her, while Vince often voices his inner sense of feeling unappreciated. Along a marital route marked by bliss and blisters, separation and counseling help to heal their connection. In the final chapters, we see a contrast between contentment and loneliness. With friends and family of her generation passing, Annie doesn’t enjoy her left-behind Matriarchal status, waiting out her time and suffering from age-related concerns.

DiPaula delivers chapters in chronological order and maintains a steady pace. With an impressive timeline, the story sometimes jumps ahead, always providing a brief update on where characters are in their present life situations.

Extensive research went into the details of this century-spanning story.

From the descriptions of the involved process of starting up a car and the daily routine of running a restaurant, to the available cancer treatments for a key character stricken with the disease, DiPaula’s effort proves thorough and genuine.

Once Upon A Time In Baltimore is the kind of story that could seemingly be set anywhere. Amidst the joys and sorrows of blended families when a marriage takes place, we see a striving for The American Dream. For individuals who enjoy following emotional family sagas and the generational relationships that play out over many years, DiPaula delivers a rich-in-character, well-crafted, and entertaining novel.


The Book Commentary


The Book Commentary
Book Reviews and Recommendations
DiPaula is a great storyteller with the ability to effortlessly infuse the writing with realism, imbuing it with strong historical and social elements. The descriptions are terrific and the somber atmosphere brought about by the Spanish flu intersects with the sense of grief that afflicts the two key characters.
The author’s exploration of grief and societal upheaval is nuanced. The relationship between Annie and Vince is skillfully developed.
DiPaula plots like an expert and writes each chapter with a flourish. Once Upon a Time in Baltimore is a wonderful story for literary and historical fiction fans. The novel's strength lies in the author’s ability to offer a dazzling portrait of what it was like for immigrants living through the social changes of the twentieth century.