[For review copies and information, contact Brent Robison, Bliss Plot Press, 1277 Wittenberg Road, Mt. Tremper, NY 12457; blissplotpress. com.]
Mafia? What Mafia?
New York – As the city reeled from the 9/11 attack a sixty-seven-year-old New Yorker began wearing shoes out rediscovering the city of his youth and finding reason to write poetry again after almost thirty years’ silence. The city’s indomitability and multi-culturalism stirred deeply – the city looked like the world in microcosm.
As he walked, pockets stuffed with notes, he remembered his friendship with a Hell’s Kitchen thug in the 1950s that inspired him to start writing fiction in 1988. He pulled his fictional account of this strange friendship from his files and saw it as an allegory for the city’s vitality and protean traits. He saw that it goes straight to the heart of today’s news, because it’s about belonging and unbelonging, who’s foreign and who’s not.
Djelloul Marbrook’s novel, Saraceno, is drawn from his own life and that of his stepfather, Dominick J. Guccione. Guccione was a childhood chum of the notorious Charles Lucana (Lucky Luciano) and knew Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Joey Adonis and other headline mafiosi. His view of the Mafia was poignant. When his stepson asked him to talk about it, he gave the answer made famous later by Tony Soprano: “What Mafia? You read the papers too much.”
Drawing from his own experience as a newspaper hawker on the streets of Manhattan, Marbrook brings to life in Saraceno a Mafia very different from the popular version. The novel’s protagonist, Billy Salviati, is based on the life of an eerily handsome and violent ex-con fresh out of Dannemora Prison and the author’s friendship with him. The don who employs Billy as a hit man calls him Il Saraceno, a nod to the impact of the long Arab rule of Sicily on Sicilian culture. The very word Mafia may well derive from the name of the Arab tribe that once ruled Palermo.
Marbrook is the author of several other novels, Guest Boy, Book 1 of the Light Piercing Water trilogy (2012, Mira Publishing House), Artemisia’s Wolf (2011, Prakash Books), and Alice Miller’s Room (1999, Online Originals). He has also written two books of poetry, Brushstrokes and Glances (2010, Deerbrook), and Far from Algiers (2008, Kent State University Press), winner of the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick prize and the 2010 International Book Prize in poetry. An excerpt from the Light Piercing Water trilogy won the 2008 Literal Latté short fiction prize. His stories and poems have been widely published in literary journals.
Marbrook was born in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American artist. He grew up in West Islip and Manhattan, where he attended Dwight School and Columbia. While in school he held a variety of jobs – soda jerk, messenger, newspaper vendor, and theater and nightclub concessionaire. He briefly served in the merchant marine and then in the U.S. Navy. Poetry had always been his passion, but in his thirties he realized he needed to know himself better in order to write honest poems. He stopped writing poems and pursued a respected newspaper career at such dailies as The Providence Journal, The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal, and The Washington Star.
In Saraceno, which the writer Dan Baum calls “an electric tone-poem,” Marbrook ably captures the patois of Manhattan, the blending of Sicilian, Yiddish and Irish cadences and body language. Marbrook himself heard infamous mafiosi of the ’50s chatting in his stepfather’s kitchen over glasses of homemade marsala, men like Frank Costello, Vito Genovese and Joey Adonis.
Saraceno has been released in e-book and audio formats. This $10 paperback [120pp] will be published in early march.