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Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy Paperback – September 2, 1997

3.5 out of 5 stars 700 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In this memoir of her buying, renovating, and living in an abandoned villa in Tuscany, Frances Mayes reveals the sensual pleasure she found living in rural Italy, and the generous spirit she brought with her. She revels in the sunlight and the color, the long view of her valley, the warm homey architecture, the languor of the slow paced days, the vigor of working her garden, and the intimacy of her dealings with the locals. Cooking, gardening, tiling and painting are never chores, but skills to be learned, arts to be practiced, and above all to be enjoyed. At the same time Mayes brings a literary and intellectual mind to bear on the experience, adding depth to this account of her enticing rural idyll. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Mayes's favorite guide to Northern Italy allots seven pages to the town of Cortona, where she owns a house. But here she finds considerably more to say about it than that, all of it so enchanting that an armchair traveler will find it hard to resist jumping out of the chair and following in her footsteps. The recently divorced author is euphoric about the old house in the Tuscan hills that she and her new lover renovated and now live in during summer vacations and on holidays. A poet, food-and-travel writer, Italophile and chair of the creative writing department at San Francisco State University, Mayes is a fine wordsmith and an exemplary companion whose delight in a brick floor she has just waxed is as contagious as her pleasure in the landscape, architecture and life of the village. Not the least of the charms of her book are the recipes for delicious meals she has made. Above all, her observations about being at home in two very different cultures are sharp and wise.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (September 2, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767900383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767900386
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (700 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
As someone who is used to taking frequent Mediterranean vacations but was marooned stateside this past summer, I thanked my lucky stars for happening upon this book. It was just the escape I needed. As I got deeper into it, I felt myself becoming more and more enamored with Tuscany, Bramasole and its cast of characters. Mayes hits her stride with rich, textured detail of her environment after the first 50 pages or so. Before that, she gets a little too bogged down in renovation process. I really felt that I was there, right down to hearing the crickets singing in the hot summer sun. Unlike so many others who reviewed this book, I was not offended at all by her descriptions of the Tuscan locals or the lifestyle. She was very complimentary and respectful of everyone she wrote about. One thing that could have been left out - the references to Mayes childhood that screamed "I'm wealthy!" The recipe chapters were an added bonus and inspired me to get cooking. Try the mushroom lasagna with bechamel sauce in the later food chapter - it's divine. The bottom line - if you're looking for a wry, humorous account of life as an expatriate, a la Peter Mayle, this book won't do it for you. But if you want to immerse yourself in a richly written tribute to the rolling hills of a gorgeous, faraway land, Tuscan Sun is not to be missed.
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Format: Paperback
Although this book has appeal for a very broad audience (thus its success), she's not writing for anyone -- or any particular genre. If you are looking for a practical travel guide, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a renovation guide, ditto. If you are looking for a story about her love for Ed, you won't get it. If you want it as a cookbook, you will be bored by everything else.
However, if you pick up the book as none of those things above, simply as one woman's collection of memories -- a portrait of her summers with a focus on the land and its pleasures -- you will be enraptured. You will not regret this book if you expect it to be full of little gems of information. Instead of tedious details, look at her close description of everything she does as poetry. Immerse yourself in her unique and rich language, and the book will warm your soul.
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Format: Paperback
You enjoy it while it lasts, get a little heartburn about half way through, and you feel a little funny after you're done. And you know that it's all just empty calories...
I was debating whether or not I should do a cycling tour of Tuscany when I spotted this book. I took it as a sign from above, so I immediately purchased it in hopes of being inspired to do the tour. Well... I WAS inspired, but not as much as I would've hoped.
Much like others have said, the first third of this book is quite sweet and captivating. It does a great job of drawing a sparse, beautifully concise mental picture of the Tuscan countryside. I really enjoyed her literary 'frugality'.
However, the only frugality she exhibits appears to be in her prose... As the book drags on, it becomes more and more the transcribed diary of a spoiled little rich girl who has trouble keeping the reins on her pocketbook. I found the references to shoe-shopping addictions to be particularly shallow.
And after the umpteenth complaint about cost overruns on the house renovations - followed by inexplicable spending sprees - I began to hear the phrase, "Awwww, the poor wittle baby" going through my head more and more. If everything's so darn expensive, why do you keep buying, and buying, and buying?
But I must admit that there is the odd sprinkle of profundity throughout the text. Every twenty pages or so, there was something - perhaps only one sentence - that would strike a chord within me, and would make me put the book down, look out the window, and remark to myself, "So, so true." In particular, her description of travel and its effect on the traveller was especially meaningful to me. It put into words what I've felt in the past, many times, but was unable to explain.
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Format: Audio Cassette
It seems sad and strange that this book should be a best seller. The author writes mainly about her material acquisitions--the villa, the linens, the pottery, the furniture. Her contacts with Italians are of the depth of my contacts with my plumber, real estate agent, or checkout clerk. She makes up for this by "imagining" the lives of people she sees--a condescending exercise that violates the integrity of these people's lives. Even the main characters, the author, her husband, her daughter, are described as roles--poet, gourmet cook, department chair, mill owner's daughter--rather than as people with emotions, quirks, sorrows and joys. "Insights" into Italy are from "book larnin'," not from experience.
For an entertaining account of remodeling an Italian villa, "Valley in Italy" by Lisa St. Aubin De Teran is very entertaining. For insights into Italians and life in Italy, "Italian Neighbors" and "An Italian Education" by Tim Parks are great.
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Format: Paperback
As an italian living in Tuscany, I found this book almost outrageous.
First of all, it is a really boring, endless description of THINGS - it could be a do-it-yourself book on restoring houses. From a woman that teaches creative writing, I expected something more. But what really annoyed me is that the author doesn't show the least interest in understanding and penetrating the italian lifestyle and culture. The book could be titled "A Stonehouse Somewhere In The Mediterranean Area", for all the relations it bears with Tuscany, or Italy. The interactions with the locals are limited to whatever work at the house they can do; there isn't the slightest interest in knowing them and their life. Mayes lives in her charming stonehouse immersed in the idea that her way of doing and seeing things is the only possible one; the doubt that "strange" behaviors could be explained by another history and culture never touches her. Being annoyed because people don't come to sand your ceilings in August is like wanting to send your kid to school on Thanksgiving...From what I gathered from the book, Mayes' only real interactions are with other americans, that share with her a quite distorted view of Italy. Her romantic views of the "nonna" living in the nice house in the country really made me laugh; ask any italian grandmother what it was like to live in a farmhouse 50 years ago: 20 hrs of work per day, cold, starving, meat only on Christmas and maybe Easter. And Mayes dreams about the "nonna" lovingly roasting the steaks on the fireplace!
Half of the italian words in the book are mispelled. The book might be intended for an american audience, but still the author could have taken the pain to show it to an italian "friend" before sending it to print. To me, it just shows once more how detached the author is from Tuscany, her "second home".
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