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  • A Tale of Two Languages
    Christina Di Noia is a charmer with her bilingual book that draws on her Italian heritage
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Journalists like me are supposed to remain objective. Sometimes, this is difficult to do because journalists are usually also humans with opinions, experiences, and perceptions that shape - and sometimes cloud - their assessment of subjects and stories they cover. Last week, I met an author, Christina Di Noia (Di Sanzo), whose book and CD I was scheduled to review for this column today. I was so impressed with her that it would be unfair for me to actually review her work. That's why I have decided to unabashedly fawn over her book, The Moon Is the Muse, and the accompanying CD that puts her reading of the book to music. But you can't say that I didn't warn you that my objectivity went out the window when I met the kind and fascinating writer, whose book is written in English and Italian.

    Born in Guatemala to Italian parents, Di Noia has lived in Italy and now the United States. It's no wonder that Di Noia won me over when we both had to give speeches to the Italian American group Amici della Lingua Italiana in Hammonton, N.J. before Thanksgiving. She is smart - she's a professor of languages who speaks Spanish, Italian, Latin, and English - and confident. She is the type to look you straight in the eye and tell it like it is. In fact, before launching into reading her work, Di Noia explained that she usually needs only a few minutes to write one of the poems featured in her book. When she's done, she says to herself, “That's exactly what I wanted to say.”

    After meeting her, I finally had the time to read her book and her CD is playing in my room as I write this. Readers will find this book to be quick; you could easily finish it in a day. The brief poems and prose are nicely broken up and make you feel as though you're accomplishing a lot in a short period. Much of the poetry is focused on her travels. Each poem was inspired by a different time and place. My favorite poem is probably the one found on pages 78 and 79. “Quel Sole Isolano” or “That Island Sun” is about my family's native Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples, by which Di Noia was enchanted during a vacation. Still, the poem has a sadness to it, a weight to it. “A veiled, feeble, lamenting Sun/Like phantoms of dreams/That no longer endure,” she writes. When the sun leaves us, the nostalgia sets in - and she captures that feeling in words.

    Prose has always been much more my domain because it's more straightforward and closer to the kind of writing I'm accustomed to in my work. Therefore, I found myself highlighting lots of favorites in the essay section.

    One of the first to intrigue me was “Paese Mio” or “My Town,” in which Di Noia describes a time when one of her students asked her about a town in Italy featured on the cover of a tourism magazine. She didn't realize at first that it was her own hometown in Italy. “Italy's small towns look similar, precious with their medieval touch, nestled and fortified in the soft folds of somnolent hills,” she writes. “Then the house that I left swept me…” As a first-generation Italian American, I recognized the immigrant struggle to keep ties to the homeland while your feet are firmly planted in another world. It's a struggle that immigrants and even their children face continuously. It is one that I know well.

    But I was moved most by “Attesa (per Fabi)” or “Expectation (for Fabi). In this brief passage, Di Noia contemplates her hopes for her child. “You will discover the splendor of the sunsets, the sunrises and the warmth of a kiss,” she writes. Who wouldn't want that for their kids? It's a sentiment that anyone who has children or aspires to have children could relate to.

    Anyone who appreciates the romance and beauty of the simplicity of the Italian language will appreciate Di Noia's book. The best part is that you don't have to be fluent in Italian to read it. If you can read English, you can read this book and pick up some Italian vocabulary because every poem and passage is written first in Italian and then translated into English. If the melody of the Italian language is what you crave, you'll enjoy the CD featuring Di Noia, who reads her work with lovely music playing in the background. You'll be relaxed and charmed and moved. The moon is Di Noia's muse, and she is ours.

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