Children’s lit of my ancestry – Cuore: The Heart of a Boy

Coincidence or serendipity?

I was writing this post about my Sicilian cousin and his favorite children’s book in Wegmans when I heard the strumming of a mandolin. It was the theme song from The Godfather. Today, the cafe was featuring Italian folk songs along with Italian food.

Then, I heard someone speaking Italian. At a nearby table, a young girl was giving an Italian lesson to an older woman.

I’m not in Italy. I’m at a Wegmans in upstate New York.

But to get on with this post: My cousin Giuseppe, who lives in Carini, Sicily, recently graduated from the University of Palermo with a degree in translation. (Actually, he is my much younger cousin. His grandmother and my father were cousins, making him my third cousin, I think.) Giuseppe plans to further his studies in literary translation. Recently, he was the translator for Susan Vreeland when she was in Sicily speaking about her books and her passion for Italy.

Now that he’s finished his studies, Giuseppe had time for some literary discussion. He told me his favorite American writers are Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, and Stephen King. Currently, he’s reading E’ Stato il Figlio, (loosely translated, “It Was the Son”) a book about the Mafia by the Sicilian writer Roberto Alajmo.  Giuseppe calls Alajmo a “wizard” of a writer; the book was recently made into a movie.

When I asked Giuseppe if books had made a difference in his life, and if there was one in particular that was special to him, he said:

book cover: Cuore: The Heart of a Boy“I can’t imagine my room without my personal bookcase, or a world without books. One of the first books that I read when I was a child was Cuore: An Italian Schoolboy’s Journal, by Edmondo de Amicis, which left an indelible mark in my life. I believe this book must be read during childhood, with the sensibility and imagination of a child, when one can physically enter the story and share the characters’ feelings with one’s own heart.”

The books was written by de Amicis during the unification of Italy in 1866 and is one of the most famous books in Italian children’s literature. It has influenced generations of Italians and has also been widely read in East Asia (where it was published as “The Education of Love” in China) and Latin America.

Some modern-day readers may find it didactic and sentimental, but I’m fascinated to know more about books that my grandparents and great grandparents may have grown up with. I wonder if my father read Cuore. I wish I could ask him.

If you read reviews of Cuore on Amazon you’ll find that people have revisited this book later in life and have been as moved by it as when they were young, if not more so. The best children’s books resonate at any age.

Perhaps someday Giuseppe will return to Cuore with the full heart of an older man.

An English translation of the book (also known as Cuore: The Heart of a Boy), can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg. The translation leaves something to be desired and the format is difficult to read, but you might want to sample a few chapters, especially if you have Italian ancestry. Illustration from Cuore: Heart of a Boy(Or Latino or Asian)

Giuseppe told me that for his thesis he created a medical glossary of terms related to the heart in Italian, English, and French. He said he had no particular reason for choosing this topic. But I wonder.

Giuseppe Di Stefano is affiliated with the translation services website

Are you familiar with books your parents or grandparents read as children? If so, tell us about them in the comments below.