Josephine Pasquarello is the tenth of 12 children. With any family that large, there are bound to be a few great stories—and secrets. The Kennett Square resident knows that better than most.
When her father died in 1955, her mother raised Pasquarello and her siblings in South Philadelphia. In 2009, Pasquarello discovered that her father’s death wasn’t what she’d always believed. Ruled a suicide, it turned out he’d been murdered by the mob. She uncovered those secrets in her book, Love & Loyalty, which was published this summer.
Love & Loyalty follows the author’s family from her father, Michael’s, death, when she was just 6 years old, through her adolescence. While Pasquarello features prominently in the book, its her mother who really shines through. “I think the main heroine of this entire book, in what she accomplished, is my mother,” Pasquarello says.
Romania Pasquarello appears on the book cover and in the subtitle: “An Immigrant Italian Mom Raising Her Family of Twelve in the Shadow of a Mafia Crime”. The dedication describes Romania as “a survivor” who taught her children “to never fold”.
While it’s evident in her book that Pasquarello idolized her mother, she also recognized the struggler Romania faced, being left to care for the children, often alone. “I can’t even imagine how mad she must have been at [her husband], at times,” says Pasquarello. Still, she never recalls hearing her mother criticize her father.
Family might be the center of Love & Loyalty, however, Pasquarello’s siblings refuse to read the book. Its publication caused a rift between them, and they’ve had little contact since. But revealing the truth about her father’s death—and her mother’s strength in the wake of it—was important to Pasquarello.
She first learned the truth about her father’s death through her cousin, Ralph, at an uncle’s funeral, about eight years ago. Pasquarello learned more from her aunt, Myra, who told her many of the stories about her father that feature in the book.
“I just wanted to know for myself. What is this really all about? Why is everything such a secret in this family? And why can’t we talk about it?” Pasquarello says. “And the more I searched, the more I found out.”
While reconstructing her family history from decades ago, Pasquarello depended on stories from Myra, Ralph and her mother. The introduction acknowledges that she cannot remember everything: “I have tried to be as truthful as I can to the spirit of what happened.”
Ultimately, she doesn’t know the extent of her father’s involvement with the mob. She does know that he was killed for refusing to go to jail in place of another mafia member, and that federal authorities had seized his properties in an attempt to pressure him into informing on the mob. The circumstances around her father’s death weren’t all that she uncovered. Pasquarello discovered, thanks to Myra, that her mother never knew the truth of those events until Michael was in the hospital, dying.
While it might seem improbable today, Pasquarello managed to uncover a truth about her own history and the way secrets can keep families together and tear them apart.
She is currently working on her second book, which will offer more details on her father.
Pasquarello will hold readings at Barnes & Noble in Valley Forge on Sept. 9, Barnes & Noble on Concord Pike on Sept. 10, and the Kennett Square Library on Sept. 16.
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