Families, Lovers, and their Letters

Italian Postwar Migration to Canada

Sonia Cancian (Author)

Families, Lovers, and their Letters takes us into the passionate hearts and minds of ordinary people caught in the heartbreak of transatlantic migration. It examines the experiences of Italian migrants to Canada and their loved ones left behind in Italy following the Second World War, when the largest migration of Italians to Canada took place.

In a micro-analysis of 400 private letters, including three collections that incorporate letters from both sides of the Atlantic, Sonia Cancian provides new evidence on the bidirectional flow of communication during migration. She analyzes how kinship networks functioned as a means of support and control through the flow of news, objects, and persons; how gender roles in productive and reproductive spheres were reinforced as a means of coping with separation; and how the emotional impact of both temporary and permanent separation was expressed during the migration process. Cancian also examines the love letter as a specific form of epistolary exchange, a first in Italian immigrant historiography, revealing the powerful effect that romantic love had on the migration experience.


“A fascinating glance at the Italian postwar migration experience to Canada.”

Corriere Magazine, November 2010 – Words Matter: Romanticizing Migration by Chiara Laricchiuta

“This provocative collection of letters tells the story of migration fro the people who experienced it firsthand. Cancian’s work in this book is an example of transnational history at its best, revealing the interconnected worlds of migrants in their new locations and in the world they left behind through the powerful medium of the letter.”

Diane C. Vecchio, Italian American Review

“From dust-covered basement boxes and trunks of ordinary people comes a path-breaking study of one of the most important migration movements of the postwar era. This is historical interdisciplinary analysis at its best, and certainly bound to make us discover or rethink the complex emotional universe that lies underneath a migration movement. A must reading for anyone interested in migration.”

– Bruno Ramirez, University of Montreal, author of Crossing the 49th Parallel, Migration from Canada to the United States, 1900–1930

“A wise and insightful book. Cancian introduces us to voices that have never been heard before and she allows readers immersed in today’s virtual communications to understand how writing on paper, too, could contribute to the achievement of dreams and the resolution of anxieties and longings.”

– Donna R. Gabaccia, Director, Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota

“The extensive use of private sources distinguishes Cancian’s monograph on migrant letters from earlier efforts. Remarkably, she obtained written correspondence from both sides of the Atlantic, thus making for a compelling transnational conversation.”

Stephen Fielding, H-Net (Humanities and Social Sciences Online)

Families, Lovers, and their Letters makes for engaging reading. It will obviously be relevant to scholars interested in Canadian history or Italian history, and to those studying family, migration, gender, emotions, and letters. In addition, since there are strong parallels between the rupture of migration and the rupture of war, the book will inform those whose focus is the social history of war. Students will find the book very accessible, have much to learn from its methodology, and have much to say from their own knowledge about its central themes – the operation of kinship networks, appropriate gender roles, and the power of emotions. Most importantly, this text is essential reading for scholars who see the motivations and decisions of ordinary individuals and their families as an essential element in explaining the past.”

– Helen Brown, Vancouver Island University, Altreitalie: International Journal of Studies on Italian Migrations in the World.

Families, Lovers, and their Letters is a serious monograph on family dynamics in the field of migration studies….Here is a model study for undergraduate and postgraduate students of migration history, gender history, and emotions history with an innovative examination of rare evidence, excellent footnotes, and an interdisciplinary approach that works. Scholars should find her book highly relevant to their university courses on migration and gender studies, if not also inspiring for their own research, not least because of the ‘lost’ era of letter-writing.”

– Catherine Dewhirst, University of Southern Queensland, Journal of Family History

About the Author

Sonia Cancian is a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow affiliated with the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota. She lives in Montreal.

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