Christ in Concrete (Centennial Edition)
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Christ in Concrete (Centennial Edition)

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  441 ratings  ·  40 reviews
An uncompromising yet beautiful portrait of the life of Italian immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1920s, Christ in Concrete is the story of a twelve-year-old boy who must support his family after his father's untimely death.

Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 1st 1993 by Signet Classics (first published 1937)
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Wow. I mean, wow! First, di Donato's powers as a writer humble me. This book is touted as a social justice novel, but it's not quite the screed that Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" was at times; di Donato's book is a cry to the heavens, it plumbs the mysteries and pleads with heart and soul the essential question: "Why?"

There are passages in this book that I've never seen equaled in terms of poignancy about the human condition, about loss and grief, and the belief and hope that our lost ones acco...more
K.D. Absolutely
This is a story of a 12-y/o Italian immigrant boy, Paul whose father, Geremio was buried alive one Good Friday when the building he was constructing collapsed and the fresh cement (thus the title) fell on him. The father has just signed a contract to pay, on installment basis, a house for his family and was excitedly telling everyone about it.

This seems to be based on Pietro Di Donato (1911-1992) actual experience as a boy whose family migrated from Italy to the US and whose father died in 1923....more
Why don't more people know about this book? An immigrant and second generation Italian-American tale written in 1939, also very much about class and exploitation--so much so that the movie version of it was banned in the US.
"Christ in Concrete" is both paean and prayer to the old immigrant Italian industrial worker.

Like the laborers it depicts, "Concrete" lurches towards moments of joy without ever breaking through the unrelenting misery that is very much author Pietro di Donato's message.

This is working class literature of the 1930s where the great unwashed are brought into finer relief, their desperate situations the fodder for heart-wrenching plot.

In vogue during its Depression heyday, this kind of literature...more
Jul 08, 2007 Melissa rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everybody. seriously.
An amazing book.
In short, it is about early Italian immigrants, literally being worked to death, trying to make a living in New York. It is just before the depression, and we follow the lives of bricklayers: the men who raise the enormous buildings in which other men succeed. The work is referred to as "Job" (with a capital "J" most of the time. What do you make of that? Hmm.) Job is never spoken of as a good and friendly presence. Instead it is a pulsing, deadly, threatening thing that rules t...more
The positive: Affecting characterizations, occasional lovely bits of prose.

The negative: Here's the thing -- I have no problem with dialect, or with stream-of-consciousness. I have a problem with transliterating Italian into word-for-word English instead of interpreting it. For example, "per favore" may literally mean "for favor," but it means "please." Transliterating it the first way adds no beauty to the words, but instead muddles the meanings of the characters' speech. I didn't mind the way...more
It's astounding how under the radar this book is considering how mind-blowingly good it is. The first chapter includes the best description of a building under construction collapsing and crushing people that I've ever read. And it's really beautifully written.
Jacques Pierre
I know I'm getting redundant, but this is another favorite urban narrative with a focus on the struggles of the italian immigrant community in New York in the early 20th century.
Beautiful, absolutely beautiful story. Beautiful style. It was like reading poetry.
Danny Runkel
It's a good classic story with some very powerful and beautifully written lines. There are also many parts where it gets confusing. It was once said the best way to do flashbacks is.......don't. I feel the same rule applies to mental breakdowns and dream sequences. Both of these occurred in the book and became so convoluted, I just started skimming until they were over. Though I won't tell you the ending, I can say it didn't bring about any resolution.
All in all, parts of the story were very po...more
Christ in Concrete is the poignant tale of a labor class youth's attempt to sustain himself and his family in the early-mid nineteenth century streets of Downtown Manhattan, New York City. In exchange for life, Paul, the protagonist, sacrificed his ticket out of the cycle of poverty as did his late father--education. As Paul endures the toiling labor in bricklaying and weeps at the hands that denied him the most basic of needs in the most perilous hours, it seems clear that he represents the tra...more
This is a very sobering account of Italian immigrant construction workers in the the Lower East Side of New York City, taking place just before the Depression. At the time of its publication in 1939, it received accolades along with another contemporary novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Di Donato's novel is largely autobiographical, based on his own experiences growing up as the oldest son of an immigrant family, who, at age 12, must make ends meet after the untimely death of his father.

The writing...more
Philip Knoerzer
Brilliant. Completely engrossing. It was like hearing the literal English translation of Italian in both language and experience. Captures the seeming futility and salvation of joy within the immigrants' life in America before and during the Depression.
Sep 16, 2009 Barbara rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone of Italian ancestry
I finished this book too early in the morning to think about a review, which I am lousy at anyways. So, agreeing with just about everyone else that gave it 4 or 5 stars, the only other thing I can add is the word choice and word order that di Donato uses. I have never read a book written this way and at first found it a little disconcerting - but not for long. It became quite natural- perhaps because of my own Italian heritage. My paternal Grandfather (born in Italy) was a stone mason and I only...more
Who knew 1930s literature about developing NYC could be so gory? The scene with the building collapse and the... jaw stripping down to bone and other grisly details, will stay with me for a long time. It's a great book to read while living in New York, where you can easily look around and imagine the buildings that Pietro Di Donato and the other bricklayers may have built. The book jumps around a lot and seems to leave some loose ends, but I definitely recommend it for people looking for a uniqu...more
Italian American Literature Class
affecting and depressing, this novel derived from the author's autobiographical short story, offers a deeper look into the lives of Itallian immigrants and the hardships they faced. Framed by death and trajedy, the novel does offer glimpses of hope. Make no mistake though, this novel isn't trying to play nice and it goes in for the kill several times with unexpected imagery and frightening details.
G.M. Lawrence
When I read that this book bested Grapes of Wrath in both reviews and sales (they came out the same year), I thought I needed to see what it was all about. So I tracked down an old copy at a used bookstore and dug in. Having now read it, I don't see what all the fuss was about. I'll take Tom Joad and his ill fated journey.
Aug 18, 2007 Cristina rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
This book was released at the same time Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath was. It even beat Grapes of Wrath out on the book club list before it went into obscurity. It's a fictional account of Di Donato's own life. It's a commentary on industrialization and the sacrifices made by immigrants.
This story just about broke my heart. It is very well written and reminded me so much of my grandparents struggles. It is a tribute to all the immigrants who struggled to make a better life for themselves and their families. Very touching.
This so-so story of Italian immigrant bricklayers in 1920's New York certainly fits its niche as an ethnic novel with great descriptions of their experience, but it never really drew me in because of weak character development.
I can't say enough about how much I loved this book. Poignant, poetic in the extreme, and life-changing. I based one of my master's theses on this book and continue to consider it for my doctoral program in the future.
I read this as part of a "Modern American Novel" course. I felt the writing was over-embellished and while it was a touching story at its core, I found it difficult to read. It just wasn't my cup of tea.
2 1/2. read for a class and that was the impetus behind the read. I can appreciate it for its context and even the use of the overwrought, but all in all, it was just too much, too exposed.
Oct 05, 2007 Jim rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: fiction
A revealing, little-read, novel about Italian bricklayers in New York City in the 1920s. An important read about immigrants and the struggles they endured to build this country.
I love this title, as a title, as a phrase, as everything. The books good to, a good ol' working class immigrant story, and about Italians, so I'm in...
I read this book in a college Italian lit class with one of my favorite professors and poets, Peter Covino, which only made me love the book more.
I have never been so haunted by a writer’s description of death, and the closest I ever want to come to being buried alive by a crushing weight.
Mar 08, 2008 Alyse rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2008
A very moving story of a young immigrant boy in NYC just before the great depression. Though it ends a bit abruptly, I still found it very enjoyable.
Graphic & Sad; Di Donato vividly depicts one young man's journey into a maturity that he never expected in an early ethnic ghetto of NY
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