Even if I am Italian and I know quite a lot about living in Italy, I am a big fan of books about expat life in my country.
I started reading this kind of books before Instantly Italy was even a remote idea in my mind and enjoyed them very much. I started with Under The Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, back in the days, and kept on looking for other accounts of life in Italy as a foreigner ever since.
Actually, I have to admit that I quickly became quite bored with the image of Italy depicted by many memoirs of that kind. They were all about Tuscany, an idyllic life in the countryside, the smell of laundry hanging outside in the sun, and endless glasses of wine while enjoying a golden sunset.
I know that this is a very nice image – and it is what I look for when I go to Tuscany – but Italy is much more than that. That’s why I really enjoy memoirs that have something different to tell, like the books about life in a small village in Liguria I recommended in an old post of mine.
Therefore, when Michelle Damiani sent me an email asking me if I wanted to read her book, which is about one year spent in Italy with her husband and three kids, I said yes because I had the feeling that it was something different from the usual memoir I was used to reading.
I am really glad I accepted the offer because I really enjoyed the book!
A few years ago, Michelle and her husband Keith decided to spend one year in Italy. They wanted to experience life in another country and discover a new culture. They wanted their kids to learn a new language and a different way of thinking. They wanted them to live this adventure of finding yourself in a completely new situation and needing to adapt. The book is Michelle’s chronological diary of this brave and amazing experience and it is a very interesting read.
The thing I liked the most about the book is that is not a glamorous account of life in a nice villa somewhere in Italy, where the only inconveniences are funny misunderstandings with the neighbors or the strange behaviour of natives, but it is a sincere report of how difficult life can be when you leave everything behind and throw yourself in a totally unknown situation.
No matter how nice and charming the place you live is, nothing is certain – not even the result of a dishwashing cycle – and you have to figure everything out, even the simplest things.
You challenge yourself every day and sometimes it can be really tiring. The feeling of not belonging haunts you on a daily basis. Understanding the language can sometimes be a true endeavor. And if you add to that the fact that you have three kids who have to deal with the same issues – maybe even worse as they have to attend school without knowing the language – the whole experience can sometimes turn into a nightmare.
Michelle Damiani tells everything about that experience, in a sincere way, even to the point of questioning her choice and the responsibility of imposing such a choice on her kids as well. She does not hide the difficult parts of such an adventure and this makes the book really true and real, which is something I truly appreciated.
At the same time, she shares all the beauty and the extreme rewards you get by putting yourself in such a situation: personal growth, self-discovery, strength. And the joy of living in Italy, obviously.
As a matter of fact, the book is a very good read for people purely interested in life in Italy too. The form of a diary and its chronological order gives the reader the opportunity of knowing more about the different seasons, the traditions, the food and delicacies you can find in a certain period only, and some peculiar Italian festivities.
There are many accounts of daily life, tales of shopping at the local alimentari (grocery shop), of eating out and having aperitivo – I loved when Michelle described her discovery of Aperol Spritz! – of being tourists and visiting nearby locations and of interacting with the dreaded bureaucracy.
Since the book is set in Italy, there is a lot of food involved too. Something I really liked is that, at the end of each month, the writer includes the recipe for a particular dish she has cooked or enjoyed during that month. I found it a nice touch and a way to feel even more part of that adventure.
And then there’s the language. The struggle with the language is real. Learning Italian is hard and some days it seems impossible. As a teacher, I found especially interesting to read how each member of the family has its own experience with the language, due to the personality and the character of each one. If you are shy, chances are it will take longer for you to be able to feel confident and speak. If you take everything as a game, you’ll end up speaking no matter what, even if your language is far from perfect.
I don’t want to tell you too much about the book because I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of reading the little adventures, the nightmares, the epiphanies, the reflections and all the other things that take place during this year so full of life. I’d recommend you this book if you are looking for a genuine account of life in a foreign country – it takes place in Italy and Italy plays a key role in the book but it could apply to life abroad everywhere. And if you are a just lover of all things Italian, I am sure you’ll love it as much as I did.
If you are interested in learning more about Michelle Damiani, you can check her website, where she writes about Italy and where you can find lots of information regarding her work and the other book she has written, a novel titled Santa Lucia, which has been inspired by her Italian adventure.
By the way, what is your favorite expat book about life in Italy? If you have some recommendations, please tell me! I am always eager for new stories!
If you are looking for interesting ways to practice your Italian daily, I’d suggest you check my brand-new program called Giorno dopo giorno, a daily Italian practice.
If you sign up to Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, listen or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.