Melissa's Reviews > Christ in Concrete

Christ in Concrete by Pietro Di Donato
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's review
Jul 08, 2007

it was amazing
Recommended 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 the lives of men. Worked like horses and paid like slaves, the bricklayers bring home just enough to keep their families from starvation. The novel focuses on the life and family of one man in particular, Geremio.

And so, toiling so as he does just to keep his family alive...what should happen, should this man meet an untimely death?

On Good Friday, just as he is dreaming of the upcoming Easter celebrations in his warm home with his family, Geremio is crushed, as are many others on his crew, as the building they are working on collapses. The descriptions of the horrible intermingling of flesh and brick are brutal. (Really, they are nightmarish)

So, what about his family?

Workers compensation? Right. His widow can't even speak the language in order to follow the red tape, even if the bosses had any intention of claiming fault. The generosity of neighbors? Not for long. No one in their tenement has anything to spare. Thankfully, the church will lend charity, right? (It must be God's plan, so God will see we're taken care of.) Again, no.

And so his eldest son, a 12-year old boy, goes to work. Laying the same bricks that killed his father, receiving even less pay than the poorly-paid grown men around him, he assumes the incredible burden of sustaining his mother and 7 siblings.

It is not only the heart-wrenching descriptions of this young boy as he struggles with an insurmountable task. It is also the exploration of the idea of relationship of God to the poverty-stricken immigrants. Faith is what they came with -- and dreams of what America has to offer. Those dreams quickly crushed by harsh reality, what is left but God? And when the church refuses to help, when God seems never to show himself to ease their misery, where is left to turn?

And yet, the book isn't so heavy that it is joyless. There is still family, there is still love and, occasionally, laughter and celebration. Helping hands, though empty, are still able to offer something to sustain humanity. Life does go on in a miserable existence, but only because people are strong and hearts are stronger.

And Faith isn't dead, but it is definitely questioned...and that's not such a bad thing.

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