Ex-Newspaper Hawker Tells His Experience in the Kitchens of the Mafia

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Based on truth, novelist Djelloul Marbrook tells his side of the story and how the Mafia got its foothold in the mean streets.

The Mafia has been portrayed in many ways in books and movies. “I don’t quarrel with these portrayals, because the Mafia has many facets,” says Djelloul (Del) Marbrook, a New Yorker and stepson of Dominick J. Guccione, a childhood chum of the notorious Lucky Luciano. Guccione was one of those charmed men who make astonishing friendships. But his success, a great story by itself, came originally from his beautiful singing voice. Selling newspapers outside Luchow’s on Fourteenth Street in Manhattan, he would sing opera to keep warm.

People would gather to hear the street Caruso. One of his admirers was the famous architect Stanford White, who befriended the young immigrant and introduced him to important people -- Guccione called them swells. They helped Guccione, not only because his beautiful voice thrilled them at their parties, “but because they found him a man of rock-solid integrity, a man who would rather die than betray a trust,” says Marbrook. “Such men were useful to the ruling elite.”

“I felt I had something interesting, if not unique, to say about the Mafia because as a boy I had listened not only to mafiosi in my stepfather’s kitchen but to first- and second-generation Sicilians who understood how and why the Mafia had gotten a foothold in this country,” Marbrook says. He puts these experiences to use in his recently published book Saraceno. “Dominick used to say that the Sicilians wanted to leave four things in Sicily: a corrupt church, a corrupt government, poverty and the Mafia. ‘Hey,’ he would say, ‘three outta four ain’t bad!’

“But I had another reason for writing the book. It’s my homage to Dominick. He rescued me from my role as family embarrassment. I was a bastard and Dominick gave me a place in the world.” Marbrook’s extended Sicilian family embraced him, whereas his mother’s family was uncomfortable with him. “So I wanted to salute Dominick, and I wanted to say something about the Sicilians who brought such marvelous gifts to North America only to see them overshadowed by the specter of the Mafia,” he says.

Saraceno (ISBN 0973946504, Open Book Press) brings life to a Mafia very different from the popular version. Saraceno is the Italian word for Arab, and when a Mafia don in the novel calls Billy Salviati, one of the book’s central characters, Il Saraceno, it’s a compliment, referring to Sicily’s long history under Arab rule, a history remembered fondly in the Sicilian collective unconscious as just and prosperous. It was also Dominick’s nickname for the author.

Marbrook had a long career as a newspaper reporter and editor, working for such distinguished newspapers as The Providence Journal, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal and The Washington Star. He has published short stories and poems in journals in the United States, England and Algeria and is the English language editor of the trilingual Arabesques Literary and Cultural Rerview. Saraceno is available in bookstores, from Open Book Press, and from Amazon.com.

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