Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy by Helene Stapinski

Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy

Since childhood, Helene Stapinski heard lurid tales about her great-great-grandmother, Vita. In Southern Italy, she was a loose woman who had murdered someone. Immigrating to America with three children, she lost one along the way. Helene's youthful obsession with Vita deepened as she grew up, eventually propelling the journalist to Italy, where, with her own children in t...

Title:Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:006243845X
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:320 pages

Murder in Matera: A True Story of Passion, Family, and Forgiveness in Southern Italy Reviews

  • Nissa
    Apr 26, 2017

    I adore Italy (I come from an Italian family) and very much enjoyed reading this book which combines history/mystery with the author's own personal experiences. A well written and very interesting read. If you like Italian history, this book is for you. I won a copy of this book from the publisher.

  • Nina
    Apr 17, 2017

    Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway.

    From the opening paragraph, I was hooked. Stapinski combines her training as a journalist with years of hearing an incomplete family story about a murder to write her exploration of family roots. It’s difficult to pigeonhole this book into any specific genre. It is heavily memoir, with elements of travelogue, investigative reporting, criminal thriller, and creative imagining thrown in. She comes from a long line of storytellers, and, conce

    Disclaimer: I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway.

    From the opening paragraph, I was hooked. Stapinski combines her training as a journalist with years of hearing an incomplete family story about a murder to write her exploration of family roots. It’s difficult to pigeonhole this book into any specific genre. It is heavily memoir, with elements of travelogue, investigative reporting, criminal thriller, and creative imagining thrown in. She comes from a long line of storytellers, and, concerned over the possibility of inherited criminal genes, was determined to get to the bottom of this particular story. Stapinski’s writing is conversational, full of rich details and explanations of Italian culture. She uses an interesting technique of interspersing chapters about life in southern Italy during the 1800s, which is the time period of the alleged murder. These sections read like a novel, using Stapinski’s relatives as the main characters. There were no journals or letters, so Stapinski weaves meticulous research with the handed-down stories, and forms her own descriptions of life in the Basilicata region of Italy. It takes several trips to Italy, and hiring researchers and translators, but Stapinski does eventually untangle the mystery.

  • Book Riot Community
    May 24, 2017

    Stapinski grew up in a family of thieves in Chicago – but they weren’t the only relatives who may have broken the law. Growing up, she heard that her Italian grandmother had murdered someone before moving to America. Stapinski’s interest in her grandmother’s story only deepened as an adult, and over the years and several trips to Italy, she uncovered long-buried secrets that she then turned into this wonderful historical whodunit/family memoir. Makes you wonder about your own grandmother…

    Backlis

    Stapinski grew up in a family of thieves in Chicago – but they weren’t the only relatives who may have broken the law. Growing up, she heard that her Italian grandmother had murdered someone before moving to America. Stapinski’s interest in her grandmother’s story only deepened as an adult, and over the years and several trips to Italy, she uncovered long-buried secrets that she then turned into this wonderful historical whodunit/family memoir. Makes you wonder about your own grandmother…

    Backlist bump: Five-Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History by Helene Stapinski (One of my favorite memoirs!)

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  • Emily Purcell
    Jun 18, 2017

    An interesting story that combines true crime and genealogy (sort of a specialty of this author). Lots of interesting twists and turns and Stapinski's speculative narrative chapter's are believable and well-written.

  • Linda
    Jun 22, 2017

    Smudges on your rearview mirror.

    You can't escape your past or the long line of individuals that came before you. Some of us have more smudges than others in the form of family crooks, thieves, vagabonds and the like. But Helene Stapinski beholds a somewhat shaky truth that there's an actual murderer in hers.

    "You could run, but the past would catch you soon enough and kick you in the ass when you weren't looking. That wasn't a saying in America, but maybe it should be."

    Stapinski, like so many of

    Smudges on your rearview mirror.

    You can't escape your past or the long line of individuals that came before you. Some of us have more smudges than others in the form of family crooks, thieves, vagabonds and the like. But Helene Stapinski beholds a somewhat shaky truth that there's an actual murderer in hers.

    "You could run, but the past would catch you soon enough and kick you in the ass when you weren't looking. That wasn't a saying in America, but maybe it should be."

    Stapinski, like so many of us, grew up hearing family tales and mere snippets of stories depicting her great-great grandmother, Vita, as a loose woman who fled Southern Italy for America in 1892. With children in tow and very little money she set up her new home in Jersey City. Like an ink-stained tattoo, no matter how she scrubbed, the link to a murder followed her. And Vita's secret life became a pox on those following in her lineage.

    With the deep fear that such personality traits can be inherited, Stapinski brings her mother and her young children to Vita's small Italian town to find out more about this elusive relative. She's noticed family members who have wayward tendencies and she fears for her children after doing research on the subject. The Gallitelli name seems to have quite the barbs. Besides that, this is a frantic itch that needs scratching.

    Murder in Matera is set up in two main parts: the initial search and then the follow-up search that occured ten years later. Stapinski interviews relatives and neighbors in Bernalda and surrounding places where Vita had lived. Her investigation falls short when she hits brick walls. No one seems to know "her story" and access to records are limited in her already limited Italian.

    Fast forward ten years and Stapinski is able to travel without her children. Her solo trip will take us through life in these poor villages and showcase the deep desire to survive that was at the core of Vita's existence. It is this personal story of Vita that now carries the storyline through cobblestone streets and through interaction with both the kind and the unscrupulous. Vita's truth becomes one with Stapinski's truth through culture, music, poetry, and diligence combined.

    Murder in Matera may not settle well with all readers. The search, at times, is an arduous one with not all research avenues panning out. But, as they say, the journey tends to reveal more than the destination itself. And Stapinski reveals Vita's story with frustration, humor, and simple tenderness combined with the weight of humanity. Perhaps it may give pause for all of us to have a closer look at those smudges on our own rearview mirrors.

    I received a copy of Murder in Matera through Giveaways on Goodreads. My thanks to Dey Street Books and to Helene Stapinski for the opportunity.

  • Carmen
    Jun 26, 2017

    There is something about ancestor-search memoirs that gets to me every time, and this one is no different. Helene Stapinski goes in search of the truth to the family story about her great-great-great grandmother, Vita, a supposed murderess (if only I had the knowledge or resources to hunt down the truth of my family's stories! But I digress). The writing style is a little chatty at times, but the story of the murder and Vita and her family, her emigration to America, and the conditions she left

    There is something about ancestor-search memoirs that gets to me every time, and this one is no different. Helene Stapinski goes in search of the truth to the family story about her great-great-great grandmother, Vita, a supposed murderess (if only I had the knowledge or resources to hunt down the truth of my family's stories! But I digress). The writing style is a little chatty at times, but the story of the murder and Vita and her family, her emigration to America, and the conditions she left behind in Southern Italy are compelling and suspenseful.

    One thing that will stick with me is the total poverty of Italy in the 19th century, and the direct connection to the thousands and thousands of Italians who came to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The tide was only stemmed when lawmakers were convinced of the racial inferiority of the Italian "race" (as well as Eastern European Jews), and placed restrictions on the numbers of those allowed to enter the U.S. But Vita and her two sons made it, and made lives for themselves here. It brings to mind the chorus of the song "Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)" from The Hamilton Mixtape: a repetition of the line "Look how far I've come." This must be why ancestor-search stories get me every time.

  • Jennie
    Jul 13, 2017

    I wanted to like this book, which is why I gave it 2 stars and not 1, but getting to the end of it felt like walking through mud. I think that, for me, the problem was the author's style along with the way she developed the story as a memoir (and it was her personal experience), but then wove into it what I can only conclude now was conjecture about the details of her family's past. Even though she ultimately does find documentation of births, deaths and other official records, there were no jou

    I wanted to like this book, which is why I gave it 2 stars and not 1, but getting to the end of it felt like walking through mud. I think that, for me, the problem was the author's style along with the way she developed the story as a memoir (and it was her personal experience), but then wove into it what I can only conclude now was conjecture about the details of her family's past. Even though she ultimately does find documentation of births, deaths and other official records, there were no journals or anything that would give her insight into the thoughts and feelings of her ancestors. Yet she wrote as though she knew those things, and I just couldn't get past that because this was not a work a fiction.

  • Dlmrose
    Jul 05, 2017

    3.5

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