All My Fallen Angelas


short fiction by Gianna Patriarca

156 Pages
May 05, 2016

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All My Fallen Angelas is a collection of stories inspired by the lives of Italian-Canadian women living in Toronto from the 1960s to the present. The stories document their strength and resilience, their power and vulnerability as the women move in community that allowed their presence in shops, factories, and churches, but offered them little else for entertainment and self-exploration outside of their families. The stories cover a wide range of women’s experiences from loneliness; disappointment; mothering; marriages, arranged and not arranged, that were loving, simply stable, or violent. As a whole, the book provides the reader with a sense of Toronto’s Italian immigrant community in its urban landscape, housing, social life, work and education options. The stories are the work of a raconteur who has been listening carefully to a wide range of women who shared their feelings in the kitchens and basements of their lives when the men were not around, when they were asleep or otherwise occupied. Each story ends on an ambiguous or poignant note that invokes the reader’s imagination. These stories are not simply accounts of women’s lives. They are literature: often humourous, sometimes tragic, and eternally human.

“These beautifully told stories of the lives and loves of immigrant girls and women will charm you and chill you and break your heart. Above all they will hold you, from the first page to the last.”

—Nino Ricci, author of the award-winning novel The Origin of Species and of the Lives of the Saints trilogy

“All My Fallen Angelas is symphony of female voices of all ages, weaving an intricate web of stories around Canadian girls and women of Italian origin living in Toronto. The narrative I, belonging to different characters, explores a memory, a moment of revelation, a traumatic event. Gianna Patriarca’s short stories are threads of a larger texture, probing, with subtlety and irony, the nuances and the intricacies of the mind of women who bear in their very names their family history.”

—Oriana Palusci, University of Naples, Orientale

“In her new book, All My Fallen Angelas, Gianna Patriarca offers stories elaborating authentic portraits of characters in Toronto’s Italian community. She dips into her memories of growing up in Toronto to offer living photographs seen through the lens of deep compassion. The experiences of ordinary immigrant Italian characters, whose lives are largely underrepresented in Canadian literature, come alive and are told with attentive humour and grace. Patriarca’s stories reclaim the drama of lives, voices, and events from the anonymity of history. All My Fallen Angelas is a timely collection of stories of a community known largely through stereotypes.”

—Isabella Colalillo Katz, author of Marlene Dietrich’s Eyes

“Gianna Patriarca infuses her prose with masterful strokes of poetic prowess. Her short stories are amazing, powerful, often cool and so very important. She gives voice to the silent and overlooked narrative of the women in our community who have sacrificed and lived so much for their families and also for themselves. The book, however, goes far beyond the stereotypical nonna-in-a-black-dress archetype and finally brings life to the rich, colourful, and complex lives of women who have been overshadowed by stories of romanticized male-dominated mafia melodrama and mayhem.”

—Domenico Capilongo, author of Subtitles and Other Stories

“Gianna Patriarca’s latest book of stories captures the tension and liability of being an Italian/immigrant woman. Through well-crafted and engaging stories, she weaves passion and melancholy into the lives of women caught in that liminal space between the old world values and the new Anglo mores, metaphorically captured as the characters gaze out their neighbourhood windows. Patriarca transports us into a world of women with desires and needs which they have learned to suppress out of cultural deference. I highly recommend this book for its gorgeous contribution to understanding Italian women’s experiences and for the Italian female sensibility with which it dances.”

—Theresa Carilli, University of Purdue

“Gianna Patriarca introduces her characters with a sharp-eyed gentleness and compassion rooted in fond familiarity. These are stories in which the author is sometimes observer, sometimes participant. They do not end at the final page, but carry on in our imagination, in our emotions. In each of her observant tales, there is something of herself and of myself and of all of us.”

—Linda Stitt, poet


Gianna Patriarca was born in Italy and immigrated in 1960 as a child. Her publications include seven books of poetry and one children’s book. Her first collection, Italian Women and Other Tragedies, was runner-up to the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award and in 2009 was translated into Italian and launched at the university of Bologna and Naples. My Etruscan Face was shortlisted for the Bressani Literary Award in 2009. Her work is extensively anthologized in many Canadian, American and Italian publications, and is on university course lists in all three countries. Her work has also been adapted for the stage and for CBC radio drama, and has been part of the documentary Pier 21 with TLN. She lives and works in Toronto.

From “My Grandmother is Normal”

“Ma perché, why, why, you no get marry? You such a nice girla, nobody wants marry to you?” That’s the standard greeting I get from my grandmother every time I appear at her front door, steel gray and decorated with an assortment of sticker type pictures of angels and saints, courtesy of her local church, and a Canadian flag, courtesy of the neighbourhood city councillor. They are all carefully pasted to the solid, impenetrable, intruder-proof door of her modest semi-detached, two-storey house on a one-way street just east of Ossington Avenue south of Dupont.

My grandmother had always wanted a new crimson door with a bright and shiny gold knob but my mother insisted that it would make an unflattering statement about those who lived in the house and the neighbours would criticize. Red is my grandmother’s favourite colour, gold her favourite mineral or metal, Saint Teresa her favourite saint and I am, without a doubt, her most cherished female grandchild. My mother — her only daughter — is the official Swiss guard on regular duty now that my grandmother has reached her mid-eighties. She spends most afternoons taking care of grandmother’s needs. My mother does the shopping, housecleaning, banking and other domestic routines, while my grandmother spends more and more time reconnecting with her catholic identity listening to Radio Maria where the Pope is a frequent guest. My grandmother is also fond of reading religious magazines and baking amaretto cookies.…

Before I take off my coat or hang up my purse or remove my shoes or even put my arms around her to say hello, my grandmother asks me the same question, which is really less of a question than it is a sad, painful affirmation of my unfortunate state of spinsterhood. My unexploited and unappreciated feminine charms going to waste, as the clock ticks away, are a constant concern for my grandmother, and a very real reason to devote a decade of prayers to my needs every time she says the rosary. That is the reason I visit only on absolutely necessary occasions. Of course, the necessary occasions are a weekly event with the added special stopover on holy days, and the feast day of Saint Teresa when I bring her a dozen red roses. Yes, roses are my grandmother’s favourite flowers. My grandmother’s name is Teresa.

1 review for All My Fallen Angelas

  1. inannaadmin

    Two Poets, Two Voices: Gianna Patriarca and Alden Hadwen
    reviewed by Deirdre Kelly
    Critics At Large – May 16, 2017

    It is not known if Gianna Patriarca and Alden Hadwen know each other. But these two women have more in common than both having coincidentally published books in 2016. Both are poets with ties to Toronto, and both are mothers who are roughly the same age – somewhere north of 50. But it is their work that draws them together here for comparison. Each projects a nuanced feminine sensibility onto poetic writing that serves as a form of self-revelation. Words chisel deep into memory and emotion, exposing hidden meaning. Both write honestly and straight-forwardly about personal experience, yielding highly individualized portraits of everyday womanhood which yet have something of the universal about them. Their language is raw and sensual and the subject is quotidian life – buying postcards, sipping coffee, watching the flowers grow. The ordinary made extraordinary through an alchemy of potent words. Love, loss, desire, regret, the quest for identity and a sense of belonging are concerns they share in common, regardless their divergent backgrounds and decisively different points of view. Where Hadwen describes trilliums “piercing the moist forest floor,” Patriarca writes of extinguished candles and plastic flowers garlanding the Virgin in churches visited by widows at dawn. One celebrates the potent energies of nature while the otherr ages against the emotional chill of the city. There’s a reason for that.

    Patriarca is an immigrant, of Italian descent, who came with her family to Toronto’s Little Italy district, where she still lives, in 1960. She worked as an elementary schoolteacher until taking early retirement in 2003, the subject of poems, many of them hilarious, in her 2007 book, My Etruscan Face. The wife of celebrated Toronto chef Andrew Milne-Allan, co-founder of Trattoria Giancarlo and Zucca, among other critically acclaimed local restaurants, Patriarca has written five books of poetry altogether, starting with 1994’s award-winning Italian Women and Other Tragedies, a superb collection of poems whose naturalistic style belies the high drama of the lives singing arias on the page. Last year, she published All My Fallen Angelas, her first collection of short stories, expanding in prose form many of the themes and characters first encountered in her poetry.

    Exploring the ravages of life and taking in the complexities and handicaps experienced by female characters in particular, All My Fallen Angelas juxtaposes the masculine and the feminine to expose social and cultural forces shaping individual lives at a given time and place.The writing might be less consistently sharp than in her poetry, but Patriarca’s Felliniesque knack for combining the poignant with the absurd shines through, making stories like the titular “All My Fallen Angelas” – a first-person narrative of a murder victim wrapped in plastic and hidden behind drywall in a Caledon Hills reno – a memorably artistic experience. Another strong story from the collection is the evocative “My Father, My Mother, My Sins,” a chilling examination of the bittersweet Italian immigrant experience and its effect on the daughter of a disillusioned family. It’s a theme common to much of her writing.

    Patriarca views immigration less as a new beginning and more as a brutal uprooting from ancestral lands, an identity disconnect. Italians who immigrated to Toronto en masse in the 1950s and 1960s found jobs as factory workers and brick layers, ditch diggers and fruit cart pushers. They paid decent wages. They enabled the Italian diaspora greatly. Yet Patriarca focuses more on the underbelly of alienation and loss, and likely because her memories are rooted in a time, more than 50 years ago, when her people were “the wops” in a WASP enclave.

    “The Neighbourhood is Changing,” a poem from her 2005 collection, What My Arms Can Carry, describes immigration as a journey into disenchantment:

    the old men
    have nowhere to go
    banished, corroded barges
    in some abandoned port
    they sit
    cooled by the winds of
    passing streetcars
    at the corner of Grace Street
    and College

    Despite more than five decades of living in Canada, Patriarca still sees her adopted home as a foreign country, a place where she rarely feels at ease. Her saving grace is being able to mitigate the misery with dark humour. In “Maggie/Peggie,” Patriarca mischievously imagines herself transformed into homegrown poet Margaret Atwood, and finally gaining acceptance:

    no more Neapolitan songs
    weeping and tragic
    no more De Sica and Magnani
    this small immigrant life
    this woman unknown

    gone is my life in black and white
    the black of death
    mourning ancestors through
    reminiscence and longing
    the white of an unfamiliar landscape
    indifferent and cold

    A fifth-generation Canadian of English, Irish and Scots descent, Alden Hadwen sees things differently. A mother of three and grandmother of four, she works in the city’s financial district but lives in the countryside near Guelph, Ont., located about an hour west of Toronto. Her daily commute provides inspiration for her poetry. Her descriptions of rural scenery and cyclical nature, as seen on the road or in the privacy of her garden, are generally lush and full of flowers, a celebration of life’s possibilities, “like the miracle of calf being born/in a barn near here/the beginning of everything.”

    These lines are from “Eden’s Light,” a poem from Hadwen’s latest collection, Isle of Grace, her third book of poetry, following Beautiful Druid in 2007 and 12 Hockey Poems in 2011. The book teems with observations of quotidian life, from the making of grape jelly to noticing how the soft light of a porcelain chandelier illuminates a friend’s “fine intelligence” and “gentle grace of her being.” Hadwen writes simply in order to uncover simple truths. With clear and concise language, she pinpoints the mysterious within the domestic. “Pies and Quiche,” for example, captures in loving detail Hadwen’s grown sister in the act of baking on an annual visit back to the family home. The poem resonates with the chop of fruit under a sharp knife, and the smell of strong tea brewing alongside conversation in a closed but familiar kitchen. The talk roams freely, touching on “children, marriage friends, health/presents to make, books, music/triumphs, troubles, trials and tears….” Quietly empathetic, Hadwen allows the scene to unfold a sa reflection on the strength and security of family:

    my sister has created this busy day in the kitchen
    like saying
    “here is the campfire
    grow a holly horn hedge around
    to protect this safe place”

    “do not notice please
    that I cut no stars of dough
    to garnish the crust”
    not fanciful
    not this time

    Elsewhere, Hadwen writes keenly about natural phenomena – waterfalls, snowfalls, and the “swaying slow and sonorous” of a Douglas Fir “on the lee side of a little cabin” during a night of strong wind at the cottage overlooking Lake Huron. A Group of Seven painting recast as a poem. But these aren’t just pretty word pictures. Hadwen captures a world in flux – her own children growing and begetting children of their own, the old ways falling beneath the march of progress. Change is inevitable, but it also gives cause for concern. In “Barns,” Hadwen describes the once familiar sight of “stone foundation wooden barns of Ontario” in the process of becoming a distant memory:

    it seems
    in 2016

    as if by some order of extinction
    these barns are falling in on themselves
    one sees ruins
    soon the grasses will grow over the stones

    my grandsons already say
    “we’ve seen these in books”
    when I point out the still standing country barns

    Hadwen also writes wistfully about sex, relishing the memory of “long slow kisses that never end” and warm caresses experienced at daybreak. These are love poems and also poems of seduction, thrillingly unselfconscious and alive. Hadwen luxuriates in the erotic, frequently taking the lead as she writes in the poem, “Lioness”:

    gliding between the sheets
    to curve behind you
    my bare breasts pressing against your back
    my thighs behind your thighs
    breathing so close to your ear and neck
    your scent
    intoxication of desire

    Patriarca also writes about sex, but rarely with the same sense of abandon. The Catholic Church always gets in the way. Sex in her poems and short stories is equated with sin. It is frequently dark, furtive, abusive. Love seems beside the point. Women of her mother’s generation, and these are the women she mostly addresses through her work, were taught to marry, have children, be a wife and then a mother and basically suffer through it. Sons are prized and daughters mostly not. Patriarca writes sarcastically of the burden of her sex in “My Birth,: a poem from the Italian Women and Other Tragedies collection:

    my father is a great martyr
    he has forgiven me everything
    even my female birth

    Actually, she’s kidding. In another poem, “Daughters,” the father character demonizes his girl child, calling her whore and Devil:

    his eyes were coral
    as he rammed his fist
    inside my mouth
    reminding me

    It’s unclear if the description is rooted in autobiography, but her writing strongly intimates that Patriarca had a troubled relationship with her father, long deceased. He appears to have tormented her early in life. In her poems, she alludes to having had therapy to see her way to the other side of his abuse. She also writes about making frequent visits to his grave as part of a journey towards self-understanding and forgiveness. Whatever he did left her terribly sad, and guilt-ridden. But Patriarca knows she needs to get beyond it. “Time to stop,” she writes in “Another November Visiting You”:

    i have written about you
    the conflicts
    the reconciliation
    enough confessions
    put an end to it
    the modern word
    a word with no meaning

    Patriarca finds solace elsewhere, under the patient gaze of a loving husband, a daughter who is her everything and an aging mother whose memories are Patriarca’s inheritance, the stories she feels compelled to write. It’s a woman’s perspective, different from Hadwen’s in many ways, but just as proud, personal and meaningful.


    Quarterly Stories: Summer 2016
    Gianna Patriarca’s All My Fallen Angelas (Inanna, 2016)

    reviewed by Buried in Print – July 19, 2016

    “Vicky’s parents had no idea about feminism and the Women’s Liberation movement. Nor did they have any real idea about the American dream, or about boutiques or about women like Cheryl Tiegs. They were simply hard-working immigrant parents who wanted to create a good life for themselves and their children, and they lived by their traditions and religious beliefs. But Victoria, who wanted to be called Vicky, had begun to dream a different dream when her father brought home that first television set as a Christmas gift for the family.”

    There are as many kinds of feminists in All My Fallen Angelas as there are likely to be feminist readers of this debut collection. Young girls as dreamers, older girls as ghosts: each has her place.

    “I believed I could make it happen. I believed that it would all come true. It would all turn out the way it was meant to be. I could live the enchantment. I would be wife to the husband prince, daughter to the King and Queen, and mother to the noble heirs to come. I would remain the dawn of every possibility.”

    The variety of perspectives (including a ghost, a child, a freshly engaged 29YO woman, and a “good daughter” who returns home to care for her aging mother) keeps the reader engaged, and beneath them all lies the author’s fascination with life stories.

    Many of these stories consider (or unfold with a backdrop of) the experiences of newcomers to Canada and Gianna Patriarca is especially interested in the gap between expectations and dreams and the reality of everyday life. Often the backstory, events which played out long before the characters arrived in Toronto, is more important than present-day events, with memory shading all that follows.

    As if to reflect the world beyond its pages, the epigraphs to the stories reach widely geographically, frequently to the works of poets (including Eavan Boland and Dylan Thomas, Lucille Clifton and Dionne Brand).

    But Toronto sets the stage for these tales, most often Little Italy. Many historic and lasting landmarks are featured, from Union Station to Tivoli (a greasy spoon at the corner of St. Clair and Dufferin), from Kensington Market to the Piper Club (on the east side of Dufferin with its afternoon dances), from the Royal Cinema on College to the Sicilian Café (further along the strip, at the corner of Montrose).

    Tivoli is filled with sensory detail as well (smelling like hormones and cigarette smoke, fries and onion rings) and there are delicious foods to tempt readers as well (rum-drenched and custard-filled brioche, almond biscotto, and maple caramel candy), along with less appealing details (a steaming and foaming waterfall of pee, or the smell of oil in soil air and plants of Petrolia).

    All My Fallen Angelas feels like a community-soaked collection of stories, always character-driven and often moving and affecting.


    All My Fallen Angelas
    reviewed by
    The Miramichi Reader – July 1, 2016

    Having spent a number of years living near and working with Italians, I especially appreciated the stories here. They take place in neighbourhoods where I lived, so I can picture the homes, the business and the flavour of Little Italy. While most of my dealings were with second or third generation Italians, and this little book covers Italian women who moved here as adults, those who came as children, and those who were born here in Canada (the “other America” as some referred to it).

    Here’s an excerpt from the story entitled “My Grandmother is Normal”:

    ““Ma perché, why, why, you no get marry? You such a nice girla, nobody wants
    marry to you?” That’s the standard greeting I get from my grandmother every time
    I appear at her front door, steel-gray and decorated with an assortment of sticker
    type pictures of angels and saints, courtesy of her local church, and a Canadian flag,
    courtesy of the neighbourhood city councillor. They are all carefully pasted to the
    solid, impenetrable, intruder-proof door of her modest semi-detached, two-storey
    house on a one-way street just east of Ossington Avenue south of Dupont.”

    My favourite in this collection is “Anna at the Window” about a widow who does not want to give up her College Street residence even though very few Italians remain in the area. One day she encounters Angelina, a half Irish, half Italian girl who has escaped the boring confines of Petrolia, ON to find a better life in Toronto. The story ends all too soon (as all good stories do), it would have made for a good novella. Indeed, several of these short stories could well make for a full-fledged novel, and with the evident talent of Ms. Patriarca, I hope to see more from her soon.

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