“Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family” by Karen Tintori— Knowing the Family Tree

Tintori, Karen. “Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family”, St Martin’s, 2007.

Knowing the Family Tree

Amos Lassen

Karen Tintori’s grandmother Josie had emigrated from Sicily with her parents at the turn of the century and they settled in Detroit. Josie’s nine siblings, worked to create a home for themselves away from the poverty and of the old country. Their descendants were proud Italian-Americans.

However, Josie had a sister nobody spoke of. Her name was Frances, and when she was sixteen she fell in love with a young barber. Her father wanted her to marry an older don in the neighborhood mafia (this would be a marriage that would give his sons a leg up in the mob. Instead, Francesa eloped with her barber boyfriend but when she returned home a married woman, her fate was sealed. “Unto the Daughters” is a historical mystery and family story that shows the many layers of family as well as honor, memory, and fear when one learns that there was an honor killing in turn-of-the-century Detroit. Karen Tintori shows us where her family came from what they came from, what they hoped for, and how the hopes and dreams of America did not work for her great-aunt Frances.

Every family has what we call a skeleton in its closet and this could be an ancestor who goes against custom and tradition and who pays the very high price of ostracism or at worse, obliteration from the memory of succeeding generations. Few pay the price that Francesa Costa, who was brutally murdered by her own brothers in a 1919 Sicilian honor killing in Detroit, did. Tintori has refused to allow the truth to remain forgotten. The story moves back and forth between rural Sicily and early 20th century Detroit.

As she explored her own family’s secret history, Karen Tintori speaks not only for her victimized aunt but also for all Italian-American daughters and wives who have been silenced by the power of omerta. This is a fascinating and frightening story that is filled with details and folklore that bring the world of a Mafia family to life.

The discovery of her great-aunt’s murder underscores her Sicilian culture’s troubling subjugation of its women. Tintori shares how in 1993 her aunt and mother reluctantly told her of an obliterated name from her great-grandfather’s passport to America. Gradually Tintori discovered the fate of the missing youngest daughter, Francesca, by working backward in time to when the Costa family first came to Detroit from Corleone, Sicily, in 1914. Francesca loved the barber’s son, but was forcibly engaged at 16 to a on of the Mafiosi in order to better her family’s fortunes. When Francesca eloped with her boyfriend, she dishonored her family dishonor and was murdered and thrown in the waters of Belle Isle by her brothers when she dared to return. Because of her family’s wall of silence, there was no catharsis here, only sorrow and shame. This is a heartbreaking story of a very tough life. We get a look at what the Italians (Sicilians) were like culturally and read of the circumstances regarding their coming to America.

3 thoughts on ““Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family” by Karen Tintori— Knowing the Family Tree

    1. Karen Tintori

      One more comment. The Jewish curse (against Haman, in particular) “May your name and your memory be erased,” spurred me to discover Francesca’s story and restore her to our family. [And if you’d post this great review on Amazon and Goodreads, I’d be so grateful.]

      1. Amos Post author

        Will do once I am back at my computer which is ailing. I am now working from my phone. I see you are doing a reading at the Bureau in NYC. I am sure you will meet many whose work I have reviewed there. Say hi for me.

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