I was in the middle of watching “The Sopranos” when the opportunity to read The Family arrived. The novel is about Antonia and Sofia, literal lifelong best friends who bond as their fathers being a part of the mafia, beginning in the 1920s. Brooklyn is their oyster and their omen. Through the novel’s sweeping story, the girls are independent while discovering loyalty, love, and liberty. I interviewed Naomi Krupitsky, author of The Family, touching upon friendship, going against your parents, developing male characters, and the American Dream.
Ashley Paul (AP): Congratulations on the novel! Because this is Feminist Book Club, one of the questions that we like to ask our authors is, what is your definition of feminism?
Naomi Krupitsky: That’s a wonderful question. And it’s surprisingly hard to answer because for me, the answer is very simple. And it just has to do with allowing all people to be their fullest self, and right now in the world that requires being part of a movement that uplifts certain categories of people who have not been allowed to do that yet.
AP: Antonia is one of the main characters. She in high school attends Mass and Saul, who was another character we find out later in the story, is Jewish. How did you want religion to serve as character development in the story?
Naomi Krupitsky: The characters in this book come from very different backgrounds. Saul comes from a very different background than Antonia and Sofia, who are the central relationship around which the rest of the story evolves. One of the things that I was doing was to investigate nature versus nurture. So who we are, who these characters are, and how much of that they inherited from their families, from their cultures, from their religions, and how much of that they get to define for themselves. Antonia and Saul both have interesting journeys with religion itself. They come closer to and sort of separate themselves from the religions within which they grew up. And Saul actually ends up becoming Catholic as part of the book and in that way, fully immersing himself in this other family. And that was definitely something that I wanted to explore just sort of origins and what makes people who they are and how much of it you get to choose.
AP: Sofia and Antonia are literal lifelong friends. They distance themselves from the ills/mistakes of their mothers, as they are part of the capital F family, which is where the title comes from. Why did you want that relationship between Sofia and Antonia and their mothers?
Naomi Krupitsky: So Sofia, and Antonia, their relationship came to me first, they’re best friends. They’re polar opposites. Sofia is really loud, really bold, really wild. Antonia is really sort of introspective, thoughtful, she’s quiet. I knew immediately that they would be lifelong friends. That allows them some freedom to come together and to grow apart and to have their relationship challenged within this structure of knowing that they’ll always come back together. I wanted to see what the limits of their relationship were and what the edges of their relationship could be, and how they could grow within it. Part of a coming of age novel has these other things but it’s about these two girls growing into women and coming into themselves in many ways. You define yourself against your parents, when you’re a teenager or you define yourself, both within the family you grew up within, which for them is both the capital F family, the mafia and also their families of origin. You define yourself with your family and against it. All of a sudden you do things and you go like, “oh my gosh, that’s just that’s what my mother does.” I’m seeing my mother and myself and how it sort of comes back around in that way.
AP: Why did you feel that emotion and how these characters expressed it was important for them to have over the course of the story?
Naomi Krupitsky: I started with Sofia and Antonia and one of the main things that is opposite about them, they really react in different ways to most things over the course of their whole lives. And one of their biggest differences is their temperament. Sofia is loud. She is kind of volatile. She confronts problems head on, and creates problems sometimes where there are none. Antonia is a thinker. She takes things in, thinks about them for a long time, and processes them later. The way that those characters express emotion was really central to how I was able to get into their heads to understand them. I hope it’s something that readers can connect to. These varying ways of being who you are in the world and how you express emotion can affect the rest of your interactions in the world felt really interesting to me.
AP: One thing that I loved about the book was every time Sofia said Tonia as a nickname. It was personal between them and really bonded the situation whether serious or playful. What is a testament to their friendship?
Naomi Krupitsky: So Sofia, and Antonia, their friendship, when I sold this book, my editor was like, this friendship is at the center of the book. And I was like, no, no, no, it’s a book about a whole family. It’s a book about multiple generations, we’re going to do like three or four generations. She was like, No, we’re gonna focus it down. These girls are the heart of this book. What I hope is that everything in the book is a testament to their friendship, an ode to the power of a lifelong friendship, and the highs and lows of the wide variety of things that a friendship can support and can influence. I hope that Sofia and Antonia’s relationship feels relatable, true, and readers can sort of see themselves in it.
AP: You have these men who are in the mafia and the way that they have to carry their families as patriarchs. The work that they have to do can be violent. How did you develop the male characters?
Naomi Krupitsky: My greatest hope is that you love all of the characters in this book. That includes the men. So I want you to love Joey Colicchio, who’s the main patriarch. He’s sort of the closest to a mob boss that we get to in this book. Joey Colicchio is a very violent man. He’s a very dangerous man. You see him do things like he punches the guy so hard in the face that his cheek splits open. He contains within him a great deal of danger and violence. You also see him being a really tender father. You see his thought process as he everyday makes decisions to take care of the people he loves in the way that he feels is best given options before him. I hope you empathize with every character in the book and especially these men who are making violent choices and doing things that your reaction reading might be like, I would never do that. Understand where they’re coming from, and that your own understanding of sort of what’s good and evil, and what’s an acceptable way to take care of your family and what isn’t, gets complicated and gets confronted a little bit.
AP: What did the American Dream mean to each character over time, especially as many of them are immigrants?
Naomi Krupitsky: Each of these characters, carries with them a version of this sort of fantastical American Dream. The idea that if you come to this country, you come from somewhere terrible, and sad, and you get to this country, which is absolutely empty, and has no Indigenous people living it, and you get to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and make anything of yourself that you want. I hope each of the characters confront what part of that Dream they even want by the end of the novel. Organized crime is not part of our collective understanding of what a good immigrant is but hopefully, you understand immigrant life is hard. Hopefully, the way these characters make choices in order to be a part of a community, and take care of the people that they love, ends up making sense. And hopefully, the definition of the American Dream and being an American gets expanded to incorporate people who are complicated, and people who don’t necessarily fit into that idea of what the perfect immigrant is, and people who chose to go for power and the ability to protect their family. Saul is a Jewish refugee forced into the American Dream in a different way than a character whose family has fantasized about coming here for generations. I hope this book engages with that fantasy of the American Dream and complicates it a little bit closer to the reality that I think a lot of people experience.
AP: New York City is always a frequent character in novels, television, film, etc. What did you want to say about New York City, particularly in the early to mid 1900s, and related to this story?
Naomi Krupitsky: I love that you call it a character because I think almost more than any other city, New York City operates as a character in its own right. And that’s true if you live there. There are days when New York is your best friend, you’re granted these little moments of grace. There are moments where it seems like the city itself is out to personally ruin your life. You have to interact with it like a person. I’m imagining that that has always been true for New York, that even in the early 20th century, when this book takes place, there are days when like New York just sucks, and there are days when New York is this really kind of magical place. I definitely wanted to engage with that and recognize and honor the way that New York City operates like a character in this book and in the world. I think Brooklyn, when this book takes place from 1920 to 1940 is newer than Manhattan. It’s almost like Brooklyn was coming of age and getting an identity and releasing to the rest of the world and defining itself in relation to the rest of New York.
AP: What would you like to leave about the novel with our readers?
Naomi Krupitsky: My greatest hope is that people read this novel and it feels like the characters and the time period and the world that takes place in are going to be really unfamiliar and really strange. And then over the course of reading the novel, I hope they become really familiar. I hope people, contemporary readers see something of themselves in these people that are different from us and from me and from you and whoever’s reading it. I hope that’s something that makes you feel sort of more connected to a broader world.
Thank you, Naomi Krupitsky for speaking about The Family with Feminist Book Club.