Under the Tuscan Sun—Review by Carole

Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun warmed me. I confess I observed all of the hoopla that surrounded the book and subsequent movie and intended to read and see them, respectively, but I just never picked them up. So, I’m grateful to my sister-in-law for picking the book for our club.

I prefer to read books and then see the movie, but of course I saw many, many clips of the movie when it was in theaters and on DVD. The impression I formed from those clips and the reality of the book seemed quite different to me. I hope to see the movie in its entirety soon and I’ll comment further at that time. My mother said she loved the book, but hated the movie. Chris asked me in a tentative voice, "Why did she pick that book?" So I knew that reactions to book and movie were mixed.

I was under the impression that the book was a novel—I didn’t know it really was a memoir (a favorite genre of mine, although I worry about its reputation in light of many recent scandals—I’ve blogged on this topic previously.)

Once I adjusted my expectation accordingly, I was delighted with much of the book. The recipes were quite appealing—I immediately made the cherries in wine. Proclaimed a big hit in my house! While I didn’t feel they were necessary to the narrative, they provided a welcome bit of texture—I just wonder what Mayes went through to decide which precious few recipes made the book. I ask you, how do you choose from the incredible depth of possibilities in Italian cooking? With that said, I’m looking forward to make her giant gnocchi next.

I also marvel at Mayes and her partner as they committed themselves to refurbishing an abandoned Tuscan villa into a lived in and loved home. Granted, it’s a home away from home. A long way away. To live parts of the year in San Francisco and part in Italy conjures many logistical nightmares to me. I can only conclude that Mayes has much deeper pockets than mine to make it all work.

We have a place two hours from our home, and we are forever sure that something is at one place when it is really at the other. We can usually rectify the situation the next weekend. Having to think through entire summers to be sure you have what you need exhausts me, and I’m a planner! Hats off to Mayes and company for their logistical prowess.

And I won’t even mention that Mayes’ work ethic makes me look like a slacker—I admire her ability to keep her eyes on her goal and not be dissuaded. While we struggle with putting up a simple split-rail fence, they refurbished entire walls and stone foundations.

What really came across to me was the deep love she has for the land, the history, and the people. Her accounts of finding bits of Etruscan civilization on her own land awed me—this is a civilization so old that its origins are lost in prehistory. We get excited if we find bits of Civil War era gear or bullets in our neck of the woods. I can’t imagine what it would be like to unearth something so old on my own land.

I also enjoyed Mayes slow unfolding of her journey and saga. She didn’t say that she waltzed into Tuscany, whipped the house into shape, and just joined the local community. She shares bits and pieces of her tale with us so that we understand that the slow rebirth of the house and land reflected her measured pace on assimilating into Tuscan ways.

So I’ll bask a while in the warmth of the world Mayes created and shared with me. When I need to revive that feeling, I’ll dip into the sequels, Bella Tuscany and In Tuscany.


Chris said...

Wow, I never thought it was a memoir!

Was it like Eat, Pray, Love -- a story of healing and redemption? The movie makes it sound like she's newly divorced and looking to heal. Or was it truly just her fixing up a Tuscan house? And was this a business partner or love interest?

Finally, I agree: I can't imagine having a real "second home" that far away. I get cranky when I leave something in David's car and he takes it to North Carolina for a day......

Katie said...

I remember loving this book (way back when). Maybe I'll dig my copy out again for a summer read! I am a sucker for these types of stories (Peter Mayle, etc). Do you have a place in the mountains?

Carole said...

I think that idea of healing is what the movie looks like, but in the book she really doesn't talk about that. She has a wonderful relationship with this man, and they buy this house in Tuscany together. In the movie, I felt like she was divorced or widowed, so I think they are quite different.