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Stolen Figs: And Other Adventures in Calabria Paperback – May 1, 2004

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Stolen Figs: And Other Adventures in Calabria + Calabrian Tales + My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy's Undiscovered South
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; First Edition edition (May 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865476969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865476967
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #876,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The jacket copy defines PW Forecasts editor Rotella's narrative as a "model travelogue," but it's much more. Even without a conventional conflict and plot, the author's intensity and personal commitment to a country and its inhabitants cast a spell. Anecdotes range from comedic-a long unseen relative scolds Rotella's father, "Thirty years and you don't write!"-to curiously romantic, as when the author's wedding ring slips off his finger while swimming and a "crazy aunt" exclaims, "That's good luck. Now you will have to return!" Descriptions of delicacies such as soppressata, capicola, fettucine and rag— simmered with pepperoni incite a desire to be there just for the luscious, succulent meals, supporting Rotella's belief that you simply can't get a bad meal in Italy. Calabria is a particularly vivid character; readers learn how much the region has been through: spoiled by drought, destroyed by earthquakes and plundered by barons and kings. Rotella points out the effects of Mafia control in Bianca, a small, decrepit city, and the economic destruction it causes, without belaboring or stereotyping the Italian-Mafia connection. Playful moments are equally memorable, detailing petty fig heists from trees belonging to unknown farmers. Such likable protagonists as Rotella's loving father, his wife, and guide Giuseppe are woven unobtrusively through the tale of a culture that counts among its children Tony Bennett, Phil Rizzuto and Stanley Tucci. The book is a love letter, and Rotella reinforces that feeling when he writes, "I am a romantic. With each trip back to Calabria, I've felt myself becoming not only more Calabrese but more Italian." Readers, whether Italian or not, will find themselves captivated by so much meticulously drawn history and enchanting terrain.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Rotella introduces the world of contemporary Calabria, the southernmost tip of the Italian peninsula, Rotella's ancestral home and that of most Italian Americans. This rugged land offers little agricultural bounty save those hardy Mediterranean natives: olives, figs, oranges, and grapes. Rotella and his father pay a visit to the family village, Gimigliano, perched on a crag. There they begin encounters with those relatives who chose not to flee to an easier life in America. So successful is the family reunion that Rotella vows to return biennially. Over a series of journeys, he witnesses growth in Calabria's tourist trade by those who love things Italian but who cannot afford trendy Umbria and Tuscany. Tales told by local Calabrese intertwine with Rotella's father's stories of growing up in Connecticut. Exhausting the chronicles of his ancestral town, Rotella sets out with the indefatigable Giuseppe to traverse the rest of Calabria. Stories flow easily from Rotella's pen, and his portrait of Calabrese life will no doubt encourage more to visit the south of Italy. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The narration is repetitive and tedious with far too many typos in the text.
Frank Ruffa
Mark Rotella has written a wonderful account of traveling back to his heritage in Calabria, Italy.
G. Speck
No doubt, an erroneous idea cultivated by his Italian relatives or even perhaps his father.
Canoe Junkie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In a perfect union of writer and subject, Publisher's Weekly editor, Mark Rotella, returns to his grandparents' homeland of Calabria. "Spurred" by Gay Talese's book, "Unto the Sons", to explore his southern Italian heritage, the author, an unabashedly, and self-admitted "romantic", provides an excellent introduction to this often overlooked region, conveying his own passion for familiarizing himself with it in the process. Largely untouched by tourism, and writers, for that matter, Calabria is both financially depressed and culturally rich, with large emigrant populations in Niagara Falls, New York, Toronto, Canada, and Danbury, Connecticut (though Rotella grew up primarily in Saint Petersburg, Florida). Whether traveling solo, with his father, wife, or postcard salesman, Guiseppe, Rotella captures the unique personality of each village he visits, with a superb eye for atmosphere, setting, and aesthetically outstanding visuals. Political and historical background, including foreign influences on the region, and effects of the Mafia, provide a framework and understanding to current situations. Rotella intersperses snippets of other writers' experiences, local legends, folktales, proverbs, customs, and traditions, lending an uncommonly expansive insight to Calabria. Combining past and present also lends a certain fascination for the reader, and includes the author's reunions with relatives, relationships formed over his several trips there, his dad's poignant remininsces, a visit to the church his grandparents were married in, and the elaborate Easter celebrations he attended. Though not without a sense of humor, Rotella's writing is most impressive for its unaffected style.Read more ›
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Erika Borsos VINE VOICE on April 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Hear the sounds, taste the food, kiss the relatives, explore the terrain, climb the mountains, visit the castles, learn the history (Greeks, Bruttians, Romans, Visigoth conquests) ... experience the adventure of exploring one's family roots in a small village in southern Italy. The village, Gimigilano, is located in Calabria, the region that looks like the foot on a map of Italy, which everyone knows resembles a boot. The author, Mark Rotella, describes his *very* first visit to this village with his father and later subsequent visits either alone or with his wife, who is of English and Dutch heritage. He captivates the reader with descriptions of nostalgia and heart-felt longing when he emotionally connects to the traditions, customs and life of the village. He is befriended by Giuseppe, a photographer, who produces postcards that he sells to regional shops and businesses. Giuseppe becomes his personal driver and tour guide to Calabria ...

The author intersperses memories of growing up, recalling how his grandfather made wine in New Jersey, which he traded with a Portuguese farmer, who raised pigs ... his grandfather slaughtered the pig in the old-fashion way and provided the family with the same cuts of meat that the author saw on his visit to the village. The author includes memories and discussions with his father. One of which is the family story when his grandfather returned to the village to find himself a suitable wife. He married her in the village and took his bride to live in America. Since his grandmother and grandfather practiced old world ways, the author was able to trace many of the family traditons back to the village and culture of the region.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Frank Ruffa on October 1, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having grown up in that area (a few miles as the crow flies), I'm familiar with most of the locales and customs the author describes. I was excited to finally buy this book (it was on my Wish List for a very long time). I admit, I stayed up late to read it! in retrospect, I realize that I was hooked because I wish to relive some of the good times I enjoyed in Calabria ('60s and '70s), but the author did a rather poor and disappointing job.
The narration is repetitive and tedious with far too many typos in the text. Aside from factual errors regarding historical events (mentioned in other comments), the author mispelled several of the local dialect expressions which pepper the text. If you're going to use local idiom, please have enough respect to spell it correctly! For example, it's "culu" not "cullu" (trans: ass). And there are many more ... as in "Giallorosso" instead of "Giallorossa" (wtf!). And, if the author returned in July with family, how could he have witnessed a procession of screaming soccer fans following a tie match of the Catanzaro team? There is no Serie (A, B, C) soccer in July!!!!!! I guess it must have been a [pathetic] artistic license. Was this meant to be a novel or a documentary? It succeeded as neither.
When writing about Capo Colonna, he focused on the lone standing greek column (which is impressive enough); but how could he not highlight the fact that just a few feet away there are ruins of a roman villa and a byzantine church!? Within the space of an acre you can 'witness' layers of culture and history spanning 2500+ years!! Talk about an opportunity to illustrate the concept of a land at the center of [ancient and medieval] universal greed and aggression!
I am disappointed. It's like eating a cannolo made without sugar!
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