This is not another memoir about visiting Italy and falling in love with an Italian man. Well, somehow it is but the book is way more complex than that.
I have discovered this book via the lovely Jasmine on Instagram. If you have been following this blog for a while, you may remember her interview for my Expats in Italy section. She has a very interesting Instagram account, which shows her love for Italy and gives you a nice way to learn more about expat life in Italy (in her stories, especially).
She was reading the book and her enthusiastic comments about it made me want to learn more about it. I have to admit that I am always very cautious with love stories that have to do with Italy because I don’t like those stereotyped views of perfect love stories set in an idyllic Tuscan countryside where everything is golden and shiny and beautiful.
I am Italian and I am interested in seeing my country through the eyes of foreigners – you know how much I love interviewing expats – but I want more than just an Eat, Pray and Love depiction of my country (I love Elizabeth Gilbert, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that way of seeing Italy that I don’t like). I want something a bit more complex and deeper than a memoir about moving to Italy, discovering good food and falling in love with a handsome man.
So, I have thought a lot before buying the book because I didn’t want to be disappointed. But Jasmine and her fellow book club readers’ enthusiasm convinced me and I gave it a go. And I am really happy I did because it was a very great read. Well, I should say it is a very great listening because I chose the audio version on Audible (read by the author herself, which was a very awesome thing).
The book, written by actress Tembi Locke, tells the story of how she fell in love with her husband Saro, a professional chef whom she met while studying in Florence, but mainly of how she managed to build a new life for her and her daughter after losing him to cancer. The love story is just the starting point of the book, its core is a very deep reflection on finding a new meaning of life after losing a loved one.
All this is set against a magic backdrop: Sicily. The island is Saro’s homeland and it is always present: it is his home, his culture, his family’s culture, and the place where Tembi takes her daughter on holiday after losing Saro as a way to stay connected with him. Sicily is a beautiful backdrop and a comforting presence, especially when Tembi finds herself alone with her daughter. But Sicily – and its culture – can also be a very difficult element to cope with, especially at the beginning of the relationship, when Tembi doesn’t know much about Italian culture.
This gives the writer the chance for an honest and real description of Italian culture and way of thinking, which is probably one of the things I liked the most about the book.
Regarding the description of Italian culture, for example, I have especially appreciated the description of how Saro’s parents thought of a son moving to America: “They think they would never see me again” is what Saro says to a shocked Tembi who can’t understand why he hasn’t told them anything about his move.
Leaving the family, especially in the past, especially in small towns, was seen as something really big, some kind of betrayal of your family. Nowadays, Italian families are more used to seeing their kids go away, mainly due to the bad economics making inevitable for young people to look for jobs abroad but, a few decades ago, it was quite a shocking thing to do – and I have experienced it myself too.
“They would think they have failed me as parents”, Saro tells Tembi, and yes, that was exactly my parent’s reaction when I told them I wanted to move to Amsterdam to live with an old boyfriend of mine. The family, here in Italy, is such a strong bond that the mere thought of a son or daughter leaving the country to marry a foreigner is heartbreaking for Italian parents – or at least it was, luckily some things change with time.
But the book is interesting – and moving – even if you don’t care about Italian culture at all. There are a lot of very deep thoughts about the difficulties of coping with a loss but also about how hard it is to take care of a loved one who is sick and how to be a good parent in such difficult times. It is a book about many things: love, loss, grief, hope, and healing.
The perfect description of the book is obviously by the writer herself: “I only knew that after five years of widowhood, I had a story inside that gnawed at me. And that, if I didn’t commit it to the page, I would suffer another kind of grief. I wanted to bring the defining moments of my life into high relief, if for no other reason than to create a love letter to my young daughter about events that had shaped her life as well. And I wanted to share all that through a prism of food, with the island of Sicily as a central character”.
I really loved the honesty of Tembi Locke in describing her relationship and her suffering: there are no rose-colored glasses, everything is sincere and harsh and brutal sometimes, making it all very real. And hearing all this told by the writer herself made it even more special. I am sure this would make a great read for you this summer – and will make you want to visit Sicily too, I am sure!
By the way, is there a memoir about Italy you’d especially recommend? Why? I’d love to know!
If you are interested in learning more about Italian culture and lifestyle, I’d suggest you jump on my digital Vespa and join Be Italian For A Month, your 30-day virtual journey to Italy.
You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!