Books can amuse, entertain, educate…and, at times, they can open a door. Retired engineer and professor, Angelo Coniglio, wrote The Lady of the Wheel, a book based on his research into the genealogy of his own Sicilian family. What he discovered reveals not only the extreme hardships that led to the great influx of Sicilians and Southern Italians into the United States in the early 1900s, but to an arcane practice born from a culture still very much linked to feudalistic customs. The wheel was a device by which abandoned babies were “saved” from death without baptism, given a name and a wet nurse, and then handed over to the whims of fate.
Many of these foundlings who did survive emigrated to the US and elsewhere; they became our grandparents and our great-grandparents who never spoke of their birth or early life, leaving it to those of us who now want to know to find the answers.
The Lady of the Wheel is a fascinating tale of a time and place that will interest any reader of history. It’s particularly important, however, for those of us who can trace our DNA back to this enchanting land of beauty and darkness called Sicily.