Natrona Heights native fictionalizes the immigrant experience
With a few revisions and some judicious editing, Paola Corso's "Catina's Haircut" could have been a memoir. Many of the stories in the book are culled from real life, whether passed down by her family or by way of observation.
Instead, she cast the new book -- subtitled "A Novel in Stories" -- as fiction.
"These things I'm relaying, there are some truths, but there is a lot of fabrication," says Corso, who grew up in Natrona Heights and now lives in Brooklyn. "I wouldn't want to present it as anything but fiction, even though there are elements of truth to it. I like having that freedom to take something that is true and spin it into its own shape."
Corso's stories span a century, starting with the opening tale, "The Rise and Fall of Antonio Del Negro," set in San Procopio in the Italian province of Reggio Calabria in the late 1910s. The last story, "Mirage," returns to San Procopio in the present day. In between, Corso charts the story of a family that comes to Pittsburgh, establishes itself, but still has ties to its ancestral home.
The author admits she wasn't always a good listener when her family talked about its history.
"When I was younger, stories went through one ear and out the other," says Corso, who is a writer-in-residence at Western Connecticut State University. "But then came a point when I became very, very interested in my family background and heritage. I couldn't wait to find out about these stories."
Some of Corso's stories are linked to historic events. "Hell and High Water" is a retelling of the St. Patrick's Day flood that struck Pittsburgh in 1936 through the eyes of a young girl who has recently emigrated to America. "St. Odo's Curse" deals with a drought that devastated southern Italy early in the 20th century.
Other stories are a blend of personal history and observation. The title story came about when Corso saw a woman with hair that reached down past her knees. "Jesus in Bars" was sparked when Corso saw a statue of Jesus in a cage. From that starting point, she added details about a woman who takes a bus to the Strip District in search of live chickens.
"It definitely has this folklorish quality where you kind of have to go with it, see it for what it is," she says. "The good thing about magical realism is there's a slight chance it can happen. Maybe 99.9 percent of the time, it's not going to happen. But as long as there's a slight chance, then you want it to be believable."
Magical realism also plays a part in the stories that bookend "Catina's Haircut." Both touch upon the Fata Morgana, the legendary mirage that is said to appear in the Straits of Messina between Italy and Sicily. Most often taking the form of an island city, Fata Morgana is, according to Corso, a meteorological phenomenon that is also a matter of faith, especially for those Italians in dire circumstances.
"I guess for my characters, just believing and having faith in that possibility is important," she says. "As long as they had some hope they would persevere. ... But they come to realize their Fata Morgana, their dream in the sky, is not going to occur in that country. They have to immigrate and try to create that dream somewhere else."
Rich in history, Paola Corso's 'Catina's Haircut: A Novel in Stories' is an imaginative look at the Italian immigrant experience in America. Corso's small, vivid stories end up being writ large, alternately personal and universal.
• Rege Behe
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Crosby banned from Jets game because he missed All-Star Game
- Former Steelers LB Haggans to do time in Westmoreland jail
- LeBeau won’t join Cardinals coaching staff
- Pine-Richland’s DiNucci to Pitt; Kittanning’s Bowers opts for PSU
- Pittsburgh cracks down on overcrowded houses
- National Weather Service to evaluate work after missed call on storm
- Gorman: Not just a no-brainer for Pine-Richland’s DiNucci
- Tanker crash closes lane of Turnpike in Penn Township
- Leaders mark Auschwitz liberation 70 years on without Putin
- Flyers’ Rinaldo suspended 8 games for hit on Letang
- Western Pa. farm markets keep customers coming when nothing’s growing