Donna Freitas Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Donna Freitas
Photo: Allen Murabayashi

Donna Freitas

An interview with Donna Freitas

An essay by Donna Frietas in which she discusses her first novel, The Possibilities of Sainthood.

Italians never tell a story in a straight line. It’s because they like to talk so much. Digressions are the hallmark—Wait, you’re telling me I never told you about the time your grandmother’s brother Geista showed up in a long black limo to the wedding and your aunt thought he was in the Mafia? Before I can go any further I’ve gotta tell you that one… The longer the story, the more reason to keep sipping that glass of wine or cup of espresso and eating more of that yummy sfogliatelle. And hands, always big, dramatic gestures with the hands.

If you could see Antonia Lucia Labella talk—she’d be gesticulating wildly. Always.

Growing up, my favorite stories of all were the ones that my mother, Concetta Lucia, and my grandmother, Amalia, used to tell about the two enormous fig trees behind the family’s Italian market—Goglia’s (it’s still open, in Bristol, RI)—where my mother spent her youth in the tiny apartment above the store. I never tired of her stories about how she got in trouble for plucking the biggest, juiciest figs for herself, and especially about how difficult it was to keep those trees alive during the harsh Rhode Island winters, when the whole neighborhood would come together to help my great-grandfather with the fig-tree burying.

That’s why I couldn’t help but begin Antonia’s story with figs and fig trees.

In my house, growing up, everything was always a drama. You didn’t just laugh, you laughed until tears poured down your face. A joke always went so far that it became ridiculous, and so at least one person in the house, usually Grandma, stormed off to her room muttering a string of Italian swear words under her breath. You didn’t yell, you screamed. (Don’t worry, you’d make up later) If you wanted something, you dug in your heels until you got it. Stubbornness was a sign of character. Food, food was personal. Serious business. Eating was how you showed love, and cooking was a statement of faith. And speaking of faith, if you lost something—because you always did at some point or another—you prayed to St. Anthony and he would find it. He would. That was his job.

We were a pretty typical, Italian Catholic family, I think. (Yes, my last name is Portuguese—that’s from my dad’s side, but believe you me, my Italian grandmother made a big stink over my mother not marrying an Italian boy. She eventually got over it—then Grandma moved in with us.)

In many ways The Possibilities of Sainthood is an ode to growing up Roman Catholic in an Italian household, and how praying for the saints to intercede on one matter or another is as regularly a part of life as eating pasta. When I embarked on pursuing a Ph.D. in religion at Catholic University, not only did I study the history of the saints in the Catholic tradition, but I learned to appreciate and love the significance the saints always had in my own family’s humble, everyday Catholicism. And especially how the saints seemed ripe for comedy. How can you not see the humor in the fact that the Patron Saint of Headaches, St. Denis, died by beheading, and is always portrayed holding his head in his hands?

To me, becoming the first ever living saint in Catholic history was simply the epitome of how a nice Italian Catholic girl like Antonia would imagine royalty—her own unique way of being a princess.

Some people don’t like melodrama. Or taking something so far it seems over the top. For me, that’s just life as I’ve always known it. That’s what family is about. That’s how I could imagine a girl named Antonia Lucia Labella writing the Vatican every month of her life since she was seven, questing after living sainthood. It’s grandiose, stubborn, a tad ridiculous, and oh so hilariously Catholic. You can’t get more Italian than that.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Good Me Bad Me
    Good Me Bad Me
    by Ali Land
    Is a psychopath born or made? This is the terrifying question that author Ali Land explores in her ...
  • Book Jacket: Five-Carat Soul
    Five-Carat Soul
    by James McBride
    In the short story "Sonny's Blues," from the 1965 collection Going to Meet the Man, African-...
  • Book Jacket: This Blessed Earth
    This Blessed Earth
    by Ted Genoways
    For the Hammonds, a farming family in Nebraska, the 2014 harvest season started with a perfect storm...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

An eye-opening and riveting look at how how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Never Coming Back
    by Alison McGhee

    A moving exploration of growing up and growing old, and the ties that bind parents and children.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Wisdom of Sundays

The Wisdom of Sundays
by Oprah Winfrey

Life-changing insights from super soul conversations.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A Good M I H T F

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.