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Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy Hardcover – September 1, 1996

3.5 out of 5 stars 694 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.

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books; First Edition edition (September 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811808424
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811808422
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (694 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Frances Mayes has always adored houses, and when she saw Bramasole, a neglected, 200-year old Tuscan farmhouse nestled in five overgrown acres, it was love at first sight. Out of that instant infatuation have come four marvelous, and hugely popular, books: the bestsellers Under the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, In Tuscany, a collaborative photo-textbook with her husband, the poet Edward Mayes, and photographer Bob Krist, and Bringing Tuscany Home: Sensuous Style From the Heart of Italy, another collaborative book with Edward Mayes and photographer Steven Rothfeld. All four highly personal books are about taking chances, living in Italy, loving and renovating an old Italian villa, the pleasures of food, wine, gardens, and the "voluptuousness of Italian life." The third book in her Tuscan trilogy, Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life (due out in spring 2010), is about Tuscan seasons and Mayes' reflections on her Italian life. She was awarded the Premio Casato Prime Donne for a major contribution in the field of letters in 2009.

Her first novel, Swan, a family saga and mystery, returns Mayes to her childhood home of Georgia and was published in 2002. A film version of Under the Tuscan Sun, starring Diane Lane, was released in fall of 2003. Frances Mayes was the editor for the 2002 Best American Travel Writing. She is also the author of the travel memoir entitled A Year in the World: Journeys of A Passionate Traveller, which immediately debuted as a New York Times bestseller in 2006. Working again with Steven Rothfeld, she published Shrines: Images of Italian Worship, also in 2006.

A widely published poet and essayist, Frances Mayes has written numerous books of poetry, including Sunday in Another Country, After Such Pleasures, The Arts of Fire, Hours, The Book of Summer, and Ex Voto. Her work The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems is widely used in college poetry classes. Formerly a professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University, where she directed The Poetry Center and chaired the Department of Creative Writing, Mayes now devotes herself full time to writing, restoring an historic garden and to her "At Home in Tuscany" furniture line at Drexel Heritage. She and her husband divide their time between North Carolina and Cortona, Italy.

Biographical note from Steven Barclay Agency

"Tuscany may have found its own bard in Frances Mayes."
-- The New York Times

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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
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
I was thoroughly dissatisfied with this novel. Due to extreme stubbornness, I forced myself to finish after several grueling months. After seeing the movie, which I adored, I starting searching for this book expecting it to be even better. The book, however, is not even slightly similar to the movie. The movie chronicled the main characters search for romance. The book, however, is a true story focusing on the restoration of an old Tuscan house Frances Mayes, the author, and her husband purchased. She describes ever step of remodeling her house in painful detail; there was an entire twenty page chapter focusing on the removal and replacement of old linoleum. Do not worry, we are also told in detail about the disposal of the aforesaid linoleum! Several other lengthy chapters were dedicated to Mayes and her husband having a custom made wrought iron gate constructed and installed. Other chapters are dedicated to the reconstruction of a stone wall around their house and, of course, we are told in depth about the various building requirements, tools, workmen, and disposal of any unusable stone. Also, the reader is allowed the thrill of excruciatingly long chapters dedicated to the remodeling of bathrooms and kitchens which, as we all know, is a subject of endless fascination. As if this is not exciting enough, the reader receives lengthy dissertations on the author's shopping trips chronicling everything she bought from bed sheets to silverware. Later, as the excitement builds to a climax, the reader is allowed a exhaustive chapter on her cleaning the floors and windows as well as painting the walls. Often, she would include entire chapters of recipes, which could have been enjoyable if it were included as a bonus at the conclusion of the novel and not an actual part of the story.Read more ›
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