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The promise of moonlit nights, stunning vistas, culinary delights and the infamous limoncella is a recipe for love...
on May 30, 2007
Romance can take place anytime, anywhere --- even in the midst of war. The sights, sounds and flavors of the Italian coast, rich with traditions and recipes passed through family members, entice British Captain James Gould to fall in love with Italy and the very beautiful and talented Livia Pertini. A mere 22 years old, Captain Gould is sent to Naples, Italy, to discourage British soldiers from taking war brides from among the many young Italian women who must prostitute themselves for bits of food in order to survive amidst deplorable conditions. The Allied occupation of Italy is portrayed with candor. Black marketeering, venereal disease, prostitution and corruption are rampant, and the new wedding officer is in charge of restoring order.
The Amalfi coast we know today as the Italian Riviera is in shambles, bombed by the Germans, British and Americans as they fight the war. In the midst of the rubble, Captain Gould is taken aback by the view, and the reader is treated to the stunning imagery of "the vast orange sun setting over the bay of Naples...Along the seafront, palm trees nodded in the evening breeze. And on the other side of the bay, the vast bulk of Mount Vesuvius loomed..." Despite the harsh realities of a war-torn country, the reader is transported to a time and place in history that enriches our understanding of the power of culture, food and love.
To begin your summer reading with THE WEDDING OFFICER and a cool limoncello is a must. Whether basking in the warm Mediterranean sun on the Amalfi coast, poolside at a resort hotel or beneath a striped umbrella on any beach, feed your appetite for wine, food and love with this book. Anthony Capella, author of THE FOOD OF LOVE, writes a visual feast laden with romance fed by the beauty of the region, its culinary delights and the warmth of the Italian people.
Livia Pertini has known one love: Enzo a young, handsome Italian officer who finds her in the kitchen of her family's osteria during the Feast of the Apricots and wins her heart with his smile and his open expression of romantic interest. "I wasn't on the lookout for someone, but when you meet the right person, you have to grab the opportunity while you can." The young lovers marry quickly, and Livia moves to Naples with her new husband. After the war takes Enzo's life, Livia is able to find work as a cook to the wedding officer and escapes having to support herself through prostitution.
James's romance with Italy and Livia begin at the same time. Her mouthwatering "eggplant baked in layers with tomato, garlic and herbs and topped with grilled cheese" fettuccine al limone and sliced apricots in wine lure him into the kitchen to sample savory foods that release his palate from the bland meat and vegetable rations. For the wedding officer to fall in love with a beautiful Italian girl is contrary to his role as deterrent of relationships between British soldiers and Italian women. James's passion for Livia begins in the kitchen, and in the middle of a cooking lesson, James and Livia hold each other during an air raid by the Germans, and James asks, "If you died right now, is there anything you would regret?" Food for thought for all of us.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius adds another dimension of uncertainty, fear and survival. While visiting her father and sister alone, Livia's family is placed in the path of hot lava. To save her father from the infection of severe burns, Livia must sacrifice herself to the town gangster in order to obtain the life-saving penicillin. The lovers are separated, and James requests a transfer to the front line to get closer to Germany, where he thinks Livia has been taken. Over shots of grappa, a kindly Italian advises James to fight for the woman he loves --- "isn't she worth fighting for?" When the lovers are reunited, James has witnessed the ravages of war firsthand in a way that changes a boy to a man.
The reader becomes as intoxicated as James by the sight of "a lemon tree in blossom...or the scent of some unfamiliar, exotic herb wafting through an open window...or snatch of opera being sung...or shaft of Neapolitan sunlight warming the skin." We are seduced by Livia as she dances the tarantella, an erotic dance in which the woman pursues the man, and we can nearly taste the briny oysters the two share in a tiny restaurant overlooking the sea by Sorrento.
I predict a boost in tourism to the Italian Riviera when THE WEDDING OFFICER is served to the public via the big screen. Previous visitors to Naples, Capri or the Amalfi coast will rejoice in remembering all things limone. The dessert is the nectar from the simple, fresh culinary imagery and salty tang of the sea, and the strength of two people who change with each other and grow together instead of apart, despite the effects of war. The promise of moonlit nights, stunning vistas, culinary delights and the infamous limoncella is a recipe for love you'll want to savor and share. Ciao.
--- Reviewed by Hillary Wagy