Lifelines: An American Dream
A Novel by Antonio Ramblés
Published electronically, exclusively on Amazon
Cover artwork by Diego Rivera
Reviewed by James Tipton
Spanning most of the 20th century, Lifelines: An American Dream, by Antonio Ramblés, is about two families. One family has its roots in West Virginia coal country, the other in the Abruzzo foothills of southern Italy. Both families seek a better life, and eventually their lives converge in Cleveland, Ohio, the setting for much of the novel. Rather than a single character, the protagonist is really the two families, who struggle against oppression, toward economic stability and love, and toward the American dream. The main characters are so provocatively and carefully delineated that a novel could be written around each of them.
Aside from a flash-to-the-future opening chapter, the novel begins in Italy, where Umberto Arellano, with no immediate family left, is forced to sell the farm his family had owned for generations. He decides to leave Italy—the year is 1920—and seek a better life in America, where his only link to America is the address on “a picture postcard of the Statue of Liberty that his cousin Fillippo had sent from America just before the Great War.” Umberto, who believes that “everything will be possible” once he is in America, is cautioned by his new friend, the old woodcarver Paolo: “Perhaps, but it is not good to look so far ahead that you do not watch where your feet are stepping today.”
Around the same time, another family, the Kimbroughs, is living in Jessup Gap, West Virginia under very poor conditions—there “was no movie theatre, soda fountain, or pharmacy in nearly thirty miles.” Worse yet, they lived almost like slaves, under the thumb of brutal mine operators. The men risked their lives daily in the dark bowels of the West Virginia earth. Without success, “United Mine Workers had been battling for collective bargaining in West Virginia for nearly thirty years.” Jesse Kimbrough, survivor of a recent cave-in, is determined to help better the lives of his fellow workers. Ultimately, though, inspired by his father’s character, it is his son Cyrus who is able to escape. He settles in Scioto Forge, Ohio with his new wife Pearl, but some years later, still seeking a better life, they move to Cleveland where Cyrus can work in the steel mills.
In almost alternating chapters Ramblés tells the story of the two families but we are well into the novel before their lives become interwoven. Eventually it is the children of the Italian immigrants and the migrant West Virginians who meet and marry, and begin the story of the united families. Much of the second half of the novel is about Morgan, the great grandson of Berto, the now old Italian, and Morgan is of course also the great grandson of Jesse Kimbrough, the courageous and now long deceased coal miner. Being a journalist Morgan, who represents the best qualities of both families, allows Ramblés to revisit some of the major events of the 20th century—wars, assassinations, popular music, movies--although these revisits of history were introduced early in the novel.
Ultimately, a major theme in Lifelines: An American Dream, and in most literature of lasting value, is love, ordinary love between men and women but also love of family, and united families. One Italian mother gives this advice to her reluctant daughter: “Loving is something that you learn to do, not something that strikes you like a bolt of lightning.”
(Antonio Ramblés is also the author of Laguna Tales, a collection of interlinked short stories set around Lake Chapala in central Mexico, available electronically on Amazon. He writes a popular, and beautifully illustrated, travel blog, at antoniorambles.com.)