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Christ in Concrete (Centennial Edition)

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  793 ratings  ·  78 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. ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 1st 1993 by Signet (first published 1937)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  793 ratings  ·  78 reviews

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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
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
When i first saw this book at the bookshelves in the store, i imediattelly picked it up. I read "Christ in Concrete" on the cover and saw the buildings and i knew i had to read it. The title was provoking and the author was Italian, i knew i found something worth reading. My expectations were that this book was about the times of The Depression, but my guess was kind of wrong. It is about the times leading to the depression. Di Donato's writing is heavy, passionate and dramatic, as one would exp ...more
Jacques Pierre
Jul 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Sep 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, absolutely beautiful story. Beautiful style. It was like reading poetry.
James Van
Mar 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have not read a more devastating first chapter. I'll never look at an old building again without thinking of what the true human cost was of building America's great cities. ...more
Mar 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
"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
May 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 20c, favorites
Published in the same year as The Grapes Of Wrath, Pietro Di Donato's first novel is in that same neglected vein of American working class literature: explicitly socialistic novels about the lives of the poor, the lives of the downtrodden. In this case, the story is largely autobiographical: the book is about Italian immigrant construction workers in New York. In the opening chapter, proud father of eight Geremio is crushed to death when a building collapses, forcing his eldest son, 12 year old ...more
Mar 08, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brutal, visceral, sensual. This book is thick with atmosphere and heavy with the pressure of Italian-american life just before the depression. Love the linguistic attentions and gritty realness. It is so lush with detail yet careful not to be so hyperbolic that it is not believable.
Deborah De
May 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautiful,magical, almost lyrical at types, story of an Italian-American family in NYC during the Depression. Really funny pasta-eating scene. Lots of suffering, poverty, family struggle, etc. Lots of "cursing," but would be great to have them in Italian! ...more
Elizabeth La Lettrice
Another essential for Italian American readers, studies, research, etc. Absolutely fantastic.
Ralph F
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
A forgotten classic. DiDonato really captures the soul of the Italian immigrant and gives a realistic view of tenement life. A truly worthy read!
A Solis
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Difficult to read and follow at times, but once you get the whole picture the story will have you wondering about life in general.
Bill FromPA
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1930s

Christ in Concrete presents the often harrowing story of an Italian immigrant family in New York City in the 1920s. 12 year old Paul is forced into construction work to support his mother and 7 younger siblings after the death of his father Geremio in the collapse of a shoddily constructed building. The book alternates passages of Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness – the narrative often becomes expressionistically inarticulate in scenes where the characters experience extreme stress - with
☆Tweety ~ purplebass ☆
Such a heartbreaking book about Italian immigrants in America during the first thirty years of 1900'.

The story, which reminded me I Malavoglia by Verga, was very tragic and haunting. Even though there is a tragedy after another, there are happy moments as well. This is life: a mix of happiness and pain. I'm Italian and I could feel the sorrow of the Italo-Americans who moved to the "new world" to look for a better life for themselves but were disillusioned by the American Dream. Despite being a
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-owned
(The following review also appears on my blog:

1939 saw the release of two celebrated works about the experiences of downtrodden American migrants to California during the Depression: John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath and William Saroyan’s drama The Time of Your Life. Both would go on to win Pulitzer Prizes in their respective genres and enter the canon as classic American works of the proletariat in the Depression-era. Both would be mythologize
Brian Ferguson
“Christ in Concrete” is a remarkable little find. Written nearly eighty years ago, but with nary an out-of-date-reference or any contrivance or corniness, it reads with dynamism and literate flight that would not seem out of place in the present day. All rings with authenticity of direct cultural and lifeblood experience. The story is of socio-economic, class and cultural struggle. It doesn’t take much to guess that this account originates from Donato’s own experiences as worker and family memb ...more
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The United States a land of immigrants can also be called a land of refugees with the understanding that neither Native Americans nor enslaved Africans were strictly speaking refugees. The first refugees are euphemistically called pilgrims. In fact, they were refugees fleeing English and European religious, economic, and political oppression. Then came the great wave of European and Asian refugees or refuse. They suffered the double indignity of homeland oppression and the nativist cruelties of ...more
Jim Puskas
A powerful work, portraying in agonizingly reality the experience of recent immigrants, in this case Italians in America as they struggle to find their way, scratch out a living, sweat, suffer and die in the merciless construction industry of the 1920s. In his introduction, Studs Terkel compares it with Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath", and aptly so. A boy of twelve, after the death of his father in a construction accident, sees no alternative but to quit school and seek employment as a bricklayer ...more
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Here is a book about what it was like to be an immigrant, in this case Italian, in the early 20th century. No whiners here. I found myself asking, Is it really worth leaving your home to endure such hardship and longing for a “better” life when what you had may have actually been the better thing? The writing is exceptional, experimental, and di Donato manages to capture the pathos, the culture, and the heartache of the immigrant experience—where family and community were all you had—and it was ...more
Frank Giaramida
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most underrated books I’ve ever read. Gripping and sad story and it’s a shame it doesn’t get enough attention.
Joe Kraus
Feb 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: multi-ethnic
I’ve read this one four or five times before, but not for years. I’m coming back to it as I teach it to start a section of multi-ethnic American literature, and I am struck by it in contradictory ways.

To begin with, I find this has a much sentimental power as I remember. I am bit of a sap, but not exactly a sodden-handkerchief kind of guy. Still, each time I read about young Paul, I get weepy. Geremio dies. Luigi chops off his leg. And it falls to Paul, 12-year-old and sensitive Paul, to carry t
May 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"He'll put his tools here - no - put them there ... workers up and down the stairs - then the battery of riveting guns let loose and reverberating the live metal air of Job - whang! whang! resound the ironworkers' sledges ... hey buddy dump some mortar here - I can't stretch to the other tub - and get me an armful of damn brick in this corner! - put it up! - what's the bond in this angle? - uorrrrhhhhhh sing the hoists - goddamn-damn sonofabastarddd I said brick on the hoist - not tile! Brick yo ...more
John Ryan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer Pletcher
Jan 06, 2019 rated it liked it
This book takes place in the 1920s. Although it is written as a fictional story, it is based on events that happened to the author as a boy. The main character is a 12 year old boy whose father dies in a horrific building collapse and is entombed in concrete on Good Friday. The father has a brother, Luigi, who promises to help the family, but he goes to work and is injured to the point that he can no longer work. The 12 year old boy, Paul, has to go to work as a bricklayer to support his mother ...more
Mar 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
This novel is the puffed-up version of a story, first published in Esquire magazine, which went on to be named "Best short story of 1938". I have no doubt that the original story was first-rate because the beginning of this novel packs a powerful punch. As long as the author deals with his father's lethal accident on a construction job and his own decision to step in as the bread-winner for his mother and 7 siblings, the writing is strong and vibrant. Afterwards, we get all the predictable scene ...more
May 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2019
I dare you to find a book more Italian than this one.

"'Funiculi-Funicula, Funiculi ... Funicula!' Old Santos' white hair was painted with sauce, Amedeo's bald head was crossed with spaghetti strands, Orangepeel-Face cried for someone to wipe his eyes of the hot pepper, the skinny Nina bawled to her Passwater for splotching with spaghetti's red grease his only good suit, Santos' little Lucia laughed with tears and said one's husband was no longer distinguishable from another's, Black Mike and Naz
Vincent Lombardo
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very powerful book. Autobiographical in nature, it is a coming of age story. A second generation Italian-American boy's father dies in a horrible accident and he drops out of grade school to support his large family, eventually doing the same job that his father did, bricklaying. But it is also about the Italian-American experience in 1920's America. Di Donato describes the poverty and how the immigrants performed difficult and dangerous jobs to survive. But he also writes about the cl ...more
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Pietro Di Donato was an italo-american writer and bricklayer. Born in West Hoboken in 1911 from italian immigrant parents from Vasto (Abruzzo). He had little scholar education but had a huge success with his autobiographical novel Christ in concrete published in 1939. The novel was inspired by the tragic death at work of his father, Geremia, on Good Friday's morning of 1923 when Pietro was twelve ...more

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“The Dead left, once more accompanied with the certain formality that numbed the senses. That of him which answered to a name and number in the society of laws was lowered into his first real estate. (…) And earth to Paul became flesh of dirt, and burial deep was cold rank to his heart. He carried his father's life, and every granule of earth that planted his father tighter beneath the footsteps of the living , he felt upon himself… earth on his body, earth suffocating his mouth and earth crushing his soul. Earth was a terrible thing, a solid dead-live sea of clay and stems, a brown foundation vastness hysterically firm. And now a still man, dignified by death, was oppressed into its womb of soil. The damp rose from the mud and up Paul's straight thin limbs.” 0 likes
“Today I did not die. I have been let to live today and must be thankful that tomorrow I may return to work—to die.” 0 likes
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