Monday, October 29, 2018

Restaurateur Jack Amato spins a fascinating tale about his early life as a proud Sicilian immigrant in New York

What would you do it you had to pay protection money to run your business? If your uncles were members of the Mafia, and they didn’t approve of you? If you were held at gunpoint by masked men and then shot in the stomach? These are questions that young Giacomo “Jack” Amato faced shortly after he came from Sicily to New York in December of 1965.

Jack Amato on the beach in Florida.
Amato describes himself as a proud “man of honor” who, following the teachings and examples of his father, refused to back down and demanded respect from the gangsters and hoodlums in his neighborhood. He tells his riveting story with candor and clarity in the book A Father’s Belief, available at Amazon and Xlibris.

Giacomo (writing under the assumed  name Gino in the book) entered junior high school in Brooklyn at age 12. He had to deal with not knowing how to speak English and being bullied by kids from other ethnic groups. He fought daily and quit school when he was 14. He learned to make pizza in a local restaurant, a skill that became instrumental when his dad opened a pizzeria to help the family realize the American dream.

Gino/Giacomo and his dad immediately encountered street gangs, the American mafia and demands for payments for protection. Father and son stood up to a group of hoodlums who threatened to scare away customers, and they refused to make payments. When Gino met Maria, they fell in love and married. After that, Gino began to have conflicts with Maria’s uncles, especially Fat Joe Massa, an American gangster who later became the boss of the notorious Bonanno crime family. Gino overcame treachery and deceit from his uncle and survived getting two gunshot wounds that nearly claimed his life as his wife was about to give birth to their first child.

The book is promoted as “based on the real story of Sicilian immigrants,” but it is classified as fiction. The realization that the events that Gino encountered seemed to match perfectly with Amato’s own biography prompted me to call Amato and ask how much of the story is true and how much fiction.

“It’s 90 percent true,” Giacomo told me. “I’ve changed some names and added details. It was a rough life; I was always getting into arguments. I was advised to call the book fiction because I’m not famous, and people would expect a person to be famous before they would buy his memoir.”

The book, which took five years to write, is “a tribute to my father,” said Amato, who now resides in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. His dad Nino was a fisherman and respected civic leader when in Sicily. He told Giacomo the story of the pure and honorable knight Orlando Furioso and encouraged his son to “be strong, to never give in, and protect and defend what is right and good.” Treat your elders, friends and your government with respect, Nino taught his son. “A real man doesn’t need to be bad to be tough. A man needs to use force only against people who are bad. That’s power.”

“I loved and feared my father,” Amato writes. “I trusted him and respected his words. He was like a God to me.”

Amato in his restaurant in Port
Saint Lucie, Florida.
However, Amato did not always follow Nino’s advice. After developing a successful restaurant, candy shop and gambling den, he became involved in a business venture which required him to become friendly with and dependent on members of the Mafia—and this nearly led to his demise.

At first, I was sorely distracted by the writing style. Amato completed less than two years of school in America, and that at a time when he was still trying to learn English. His writing is on the rough side. He often changes from the past to present tense. He usually refers to the main character in the third person, as Gino, but sometimes he slips into the first person. Words are misspelled. Sentences can be fragments. Facts are repeated. It’s obvious that the book is self-published and could have been improved with a good editor.

However, I soon came to appreciate that the writing style also reveals much about Amato’s unique style and personality. He was an uneducated but street-smart teenager, and that came through in his choice of words and sentence structure. The voice is authentic and realistic, along the lines of the sincere, juvenile voice of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. Reading the book made me picture Amato spinning tales with friends in his restaurant.

I asked Giacomo if I could reveal that the book is not actually fiction, and he gave permission. “If I had used their (mobsters) real names, I might have an issue,” he said. “They were powerful people. But it’s no problem. I didn’t mention anyone they killed, and besides, they’re now in witness protection programs, so they have new names anyway.”

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