Review: “Wrestling With The Devil” By Tonya Russo Hamilton & Antonio Russo

Through NetGalley, I was provided a copy of this book by Gemelli Press for the purposes of reading and review it. While it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

This book was done in a very relaxed narrative style with Hamilton telling the story of her father in his voice. I am a fan of that method, as it doesn’t feel as stilted as some memoirs or biographies.

Born in Italy to an Italian father and a mother with dual American and Italian citizenship, Russo was sent to America when he was ten to live family. Since he was born to a mother with American citizenship, his parents wanted him to establish his permanent American citizenship, and at the time he had to live in the United States for five years prior to his eighteenth birthday.

The trials Russo experiences during the trip to America by boat are enough to make you want to throttle the “family friend” who was supposed to look out for him, but essentially ignored Russo for the duration of the trip. For the first few months in America, Russo is bounced from family to family as each is encumbered with feeding, housing and clothing an extra mouth in post-World War II New York. Eventually, Russo ends up in Portland, Oregon, with an uncle, where he lives for several years.

A few years later, Russo’s father, mother, brother and sister join him, and the family is reunited in Portland. However, Russo has already on a rough road.

Knowing very little English when he arrived in America, Russo starts behind in his schoolwork and is behind throughout his school years. As a consequence, Russo ends up being a teen who’s not afraid to use his fists to solve a problem.

Being very athletic and having tried many sports, Russo eventually gets involved with wrestling in high school, and a new passion and outlet is found for him. Whenever times are hard and Russo is battling emotional or mental demons, complete exhaustion on the mats is his escape. Not only that, but he develops an aptitude for the sport, competing very well at the high school level.

After graduation, because his grades were average at best and college was not an option, Russo begins working in a local meat market, eventually earning journeyman status. Along the way, Russo’s younger brother Pete competes exceptionally well in high school wrestling, earning a scholarship at Arizona State University.

Once in college, Pete begins working on his coach, encouraging him to give Russo a chance at a scholarship. The coach invites Russo to campus, where he makes the team.

Will Russo do well in college since he struggled in high school? How will he do in competition? Is there anything waiting for him when his wrestling career is over? I guess you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

I really enjoyed this story since I love reading stories about people facing challenges and trying to overcome them. While I’m not a big wrestling fan, the author does a good job of not getting too heavy in terminology and details of specific matches, but provides at least enough to tell the story effectively. Plus, as I noted earlier, the relaxed narrative tone makes this an easy, smooth read.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)