Publication Date: March 11, 2021
Italy, 1911. Pietro’s life on the family vineyard is idyllic. He has at last captured the melody of the grape harvest on his clarinet and can’t wait to share his composition with his grandfather, but before he can play, news arrives of a deadly disease sweeping the countryside. They have no choice but to burn the vineyard to stop its spread. The loss is too much for Pietro’s grandfather, and by morning Pietro has lost two of the most precious things in his life—his grandfather and the vineyard. All he has left is his music, but a disastrous performance at his grandfather’s funeral suggests that music, too, is now beyond his reach.
Adrift with grief, Pietro seeks a new start in America. He goes to work in a Pennsylvania coal mine where his musician’s hands blister and his days are spent in the muffled silence of underground.
When the beautiful voice and gentle heart of a friend’s wife stirs a new song in him, Pietro at last encounters a glimmer of hope. From a respectful distance and without catching the attention of her husband, Pietro draws on Assunta for inspiration and soon his gift for music returns. But when grief strikes in Assunta’s life, Pietro is to blame. When Prohibition steals Pietro’s last pleasure, he has to do something before Assunta’s grief consumes them both.
Inspired by true events, From Ashes to Song is a story of unconventional love, hope, and the extraordinary gifts brought to America by ordinary people in the great wave of immigration.
From Ashes to Song from debut author Hilary Hauck is written with a great deal of emotion and based on actual events.
Ms. Hauck communicates the touching and heartwarming moments along with the heartache, laughter, and tears beautifully.
The story begins in Italy in 1911, where instead of harvesting their grapes, Pietro’s family has to burn the vineyards due to a deadly disease that has spread from vineyards in France to Italy. Until then, we see the family interactions, especially between Pietro and his beloved grandfather, Nonno. They share a love of music as well as family. Before Nonno’s heart gives out, due to the tragedy that has befallen his family, his last wish is for Pietro to travel. Little does Pietro know what that would mean and how his life would be affected from then on.
Immigrating with a friend to America, we get the taste of what the two went through on the ship and Ellis Island. Pietro and his friend end up going their separate ways, and Pietro ends up in Pennsylvania due to a stranger on the ship giving him the name and address of where he should stay and why he should go there instead of staying in New York.
When Pietro and the man on the ship cross paths in Pennsylvania, they forge a friendship, but it sometimes seemed one-sided. Reading how difficult the immigrants’ lives were, tugged at my heart. There are a lot of characters, but we just seem to scratch the surface and don’t really get to know them. I liked that folks were neighborly and seemed to look out for one another. The mines where everyone in the small Pennsylvania towns worked were realistically portrayed—especially the dust—the dirt, and the danger.
Music plays an essential part throughout whether Pietro is playing in a band or composing music. He hears sounds and music when others can’t.
The story has a nice flow to it, and I felt as the book continued, details began to get glossed over, especially when Pietro and Assunta’s relationship becomes a real one. The story ended in 1952, and I feel like much of that chapter was new information and should have been woven into the story a little better and a little earlier.
There was closure, and, although it was sad, there was also good woven in as well.
I like the cover. It is spot-on for the story. I also liked how the musical notes were sprinkled throughout breaks in the chapters.
The story resonated with me since my family is Italian. My dad, grandparents, aunts, and uncles all emigrated from Italy to America for a better life in the early 1900s. They made their lives in New York City, and that’s where I was born and raised. Many of the events rang true, especially the dialogue and winemaking.
Though there were places in the book I would have liked a few more details, considering From Ashes to Song is Ms. Hauck’s debut novel, she did an excellent job, and I will give more of her books a chance.
Hilary Hauck is a writer and translator whose work has appeared in the Mindful Writers Retreat Series anthologies, the Ekphrastic Review, Balloons Lit. Journal, and the Telepoem Booth. She moved to Italy from her native UK as a young adult, where she mastered the language, learned how to cook food she can no longer eat, and won a karate championship. After meeting her husband, Hilary came to the US and drew inspiration from Pennsylvania coal history, which soon became the setting for her debut novel.
Hilary is Chair of the Festival of Books in the Alleghenies, a past president of Pennwriters, and a graduate of RULE XVI.
She lives on a small patch of woods in rural Pennsylvania with her husband, one of their three adult children, a cat with a passion for laundry, and an oversized German Shepherd called Hobbes—of the Calvin variety. Follow her at www.hilaryhauck.com.