Strangers seldom wander into the mountainous wild at Sicily’s heart. The locals, having resisted repeated waves of invaders, maintain their own traditions in defiance of the outside world. So when de Blasi and her Venetian husband trek into Sicily’s core in search of background for a travel guide, they discover a world much removed from modern life. Persevering in what seems a fruitless search, they finally stumble upon the Villa Donnafugata, an old wreck of a castle presided over by an imperious woman called Tosca. The villa has become a refuge for widows from the region. It also houses a birthing clinic, vital to the mountains’ isolated women. The residents eat well and heartily, the leftovers distributed to the local town’s poor. De Blasi uncovers Tosca’s past, an extraordinary tale of passion and love stretching over decades of the twentieth century. Admirers of this author will relish her latest volume. --Mark Knoblauch
Marlena de Blasi has been a chef, a journalist, a food and wine consultant, and a restaurant critic. She is the author of two cookbooks, Regional Foods of Northern Italy (a James Beard Foundation Award finalist) and Regional Foods of Southern Italy. She and her husband, Fernando, now direct gastronomic tours through Tuscany and Umbria.
That Summer in Sicily is the fourth Marlena de Blasi book I have read. When I picked up the first one, A Thousand Days in Venice, I didn't take to it right away. I am a Texan who writes exactly the way I speak, and I am irritated by flowery prose. However, I am also a sensualist, in love with taste, aroma, color, texture and sound. These elements--these things that define a particular place--come alive for me in these books.
Unlike her previous three memoirs, this story is not really about American Marlena and her Venetian husband. It is an almost unbelievable love story, a story about what it means to be Sicilian. As with most other adventures in her life, this one began with a writing assignment. Marlena was asked by a scholarly magazine to write a seminal piece on the interior regions of Sicily. Several people had already turned the job down, and soon she discovered why. Despite a meticulously drawn route and prearranged interview appointments, she was met at every turn with "misanthropic silences, closed doors and epic heat." Eventually she gave up.
Marlena's husband had come along for the ride, and before wending their way down from the mountains, they decided to take a day or two to recover. Finally, a policeman responded to their numerous inquiries for a place to stay. "There is a woman called Tosca. Her place is Villa Donnafugata (house of fleeing woman), although there's no sign to tell you so."
When they entered the gates they found what looked like a castle with sweeping gardens. In fact, it was nothing more than a hunting lodge, once belonging to the last Anjou prince in Sicily. Everywhere, they passed groups of women in long black dresses, laughing and singing as they went about their daily chores.Read more ›
I fell under Ms. de Blasi's spell with the trilogy (1000 Days In Venice, 1000 Days in Tuscany and The Lady In The Palazzo) and here is another book of delicate prose woven with insight and beauty. This type of writing probably isn't for everyone. One reviewer of a book she wrote was shocked that she could write about food without having step-by-step photos of preparations. How sad for that person that the whole purpose of her writing isn't about how to cook but how to enjoy cooking, how to enjoy the friends that will eat your food and how to enjoy life. This is a book by a writer who will transport you into another world - if you give her your time and hand.
This author can write! Her descriptions of people, environments, food and relationship are first class.
Unlike the first three books that were memoirs of her travels and life with her husband, A Thousand Days in Venice, A Thousand Days in Tuscany, and The Lady in the Palazzo, this book is really Tosca Brazzi's story as told to Marlena.
De Blasi descriptions of simple, everyday things are strong, such as: Unskilled, unshy hands pounded scales on the piano." I could hear the music and see that person working the keys.
What an interesting story de Blasi tells because of her chance meeting with a woman, now in her mid 60s, while traveling with her husband, Italian born Fernando. Tosca, the nine-year-old daughter of a peasant under the last prince in Sicily, was given to the prince by her father in trade for a stallion. She was educated along with the prince's young children and as she grew, became their teacher. A priest who knew her in the beginning described her as having "splendid arrogance."
At 18, Tosca became the mistress of Leo, the prince, now 36. When Leo disappeared mysteriously because his work for the people went against the local mafia, Tosco became an heiress. She carries on his work of modernizing some of culture. Sicily is like a major character in the book and we learn about many aspects of life there.
The story today is of Tosca's role in helping women who are alone--many who come to the beautiful Villa Donnafugata (house of fleeing women) to live, and maybe to die.
If you love good writing that is descriptive to the finest detail, read this book.Read more ›
In "That Summer in Sicily," author Marlena de Blasi shifts focus from her own memoirs (which bracket the story) to tell the story of Tosca Brozzi and her lover, Leo, the last prince of the area. During a summer of traveling and writing, de Blasi and her still-new husband arrive at Villa Donnafugata (literally "The House of the Driven-Out Women"), a community of women of all ages, who are living together in relative peace and harmony. After a few days in the villa, Tosca confides her story to de Blasi, which forms the bulk of the book.
The traditions she evokes are fascinating and other-worldly: the beautiful maiden, handsome prince, bitter wife, jealous siblings and external threat, in the form of a Mafia boss. De Blasi seems incapable of having an ordinary moment - even such mundane aspects of life as washing and braiding hair take on an almost religious significance. Tosca's community and its traditions provide an intriguing glimpse into a very different way of living.
Why, then, only three stars? Quite simply, the narrative bogged down in the middle, at least for me. Leo's story and reforms, the "inevitable doom" hanging over him, just didn't draw me in the way day-to-day life in the villa did, or even Tosca's childhood narrative. We all know it's not going to end well, so his clash was almost predictable. The twist at the end was a surprise, but since I hadn't been very engaged in Leo's story, it was only intellectually interesting.
It's an interesting idea and de Blasi tells a good story, but I didn't enjoy it as much as her other works.