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On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal Paperback – September 26, 1995

4.5 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mary Taylor Simeti arrived in Sicily in 1962 to do volunteer work. Freshly graduated from Radcliffe College after growing up in a distinguished and privileged New York City family, the last thing she expected was to fall in love and marry a Sicilian. On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal is the ambivalent love story of an intelligent, complex, and self-reflective woman. The book recounts the events of 1983, the year Simeti turned 42. Her narrative alternates between Palermo, where her children attend school and her husband Toninno is a professor of agricultural economy, and Bosco, in eastern Sicily, where she shoulders demanding responsibilities on the working farm that has belonged to her husband's family for three generations.

Simeti feels the isolation of being an expatriate and outsider, although she claims to welcome this perspective when faced with frustration and disgust at the pervading political corruption and corrosive effects of the Mafia on everyday life. Despite her natural diffidence, she shares personal insights that makeOn Persephone's Island as compelling as her prose. Simeti intersperses rich helpings of Sicilian history and culture with mundane events and insight into what motivates the peasants essential to the survival of the family farm. And she makes pessimistic observations about the complexity of changing times in a society where the persistent reliance on feudal relationships and agriculture is finally crumbling.

An academic manqué, Simeti researches and ruminates on the mythological underpinnings of the many holidays and festivals that punctuate the rhythm of Sicilian life. She focuses particularly on the Greek goddesses Persephone and Demeter, who held Sicily under their protection. She eventually discovers a correlation between her own situation and the story of Persephone, who alternately inhabited the worlds of light and darkness.

From Publishers Weekly

An American married to a Sicilian professor and ancestral farm owner, Simeti with her family divides the year between Palermo and the countryside. In a beautifully written journal covering one year, she records with an artist's eye the rhythm of the seasons, the extremes of climate and contrasts between the lush coastal region, wheatlands and the mountainous, more barren interior of the island. With a useful historical perspective on Sicily's blend of civilizations, she also provides lively insights into the character of its people, their social and burial customs and festivals, some of them of Greek, Arab or Norman origin. The author appears to have retained an American independent spirit while immersing herself in an alien society and mastering the practical demands of rural existence. That her sensitivity to the charms of her adoptive land does not blind her to its shortcomings makes her a most reliable guide. Illustrations.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 329 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage Departures Ed edition (September 26, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679764143
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679764144
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,509 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Wanting to learn more about my family's place of origin, and to expand my knowledge of the island gained in a two-week visit several years ago, reviews of this book led me to buy it. The author, a graduate of a prestigious American college and a person not of Italian background, proves to have written an almost poetic journal of her family's life over the course of the four seasons on this enigmatic island. She combines a beautifully descriptive knowledge of the infinitely varied flora of Sicily with a close acquaintance with the political and social mores of its inhabitants. Moreover, her many references to the Greek origins of the island give the reader a perspective not commonly found. Her marriage to a middle class Sicilian university professor and her approach to raising two children in this unusual environment gives the book a personal slant not always available to one trying to get a handle on life in this ancient land.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone wishing to learn about the real Sicily.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the loveliest books I've read in a longtime...so much so that I ended up travelling to Sicily, dog-eared bookin tow, to taste the pasta reale (marzipan) and arancini di riso (rice croquettes), stay at Villa Igiea in Palermo, visit the temple of Segesta, and meet the warm, friendly Sicilian people. This is a book to be savored. It is full of humor and tenderness. It is about living in Sicily, it is about Sicilian food and culture, and it is for folks who wish they could travel there and never will, as well as for those who vow that now, they really must see this phenomenal Italian island.
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Format: Paperback
Mary Simeti and I are star-crossed. We both had the exact experience with some notable difference. She married an Alcamese and stayed in Sicily. I married an Alcamese and brought him to America. I believe she made the wiser choice as her book clearly demonstrated to me that while an American can become a Sicilian, a Sicilian can never become a true American. I was impressed by her use of language and how she managed to masterfully depict Sicily. It is obvious that she has been seduced by the Sicilian way of life but still clings to her American origins. I had the pleasure of meeting her in person and she is as lovely as her book would convey. This is not just a book about Sicily--it is an intelligent, scholarly work from a writer mesmorized by a mysterious but wondrous culture. Although I had a special interest in this book, anyone who enjoys poetry and history disguised as prose will adore this book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Simeti does a great job of talking about her adopted home. The story works well on two levels - discussing the mythology, history, and culture of Sicily, but also weaving in her responses, frustrations, fears, and joys about her life as an American woman turned Italian wife and mother. One of my favorite books about Italy.
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Format: Paperback
She tells a very detailed story of Sicilian life, history, etc. I am enjoying every minute. It really takes me away from the NY subway, where I read it. It gets plodding at times but then she quickly gets interesting again - a pitfall of trying to tell it all in one book. You'll really feel like you've been there.
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Format: Paperback
Picked this book because of its previous rating and read it prior to visiting Sicily. I found the book a delightful read and Simeti's images to accurately describe the Sicily we saw four weeks after finishing the book. She describes well a beautiful and complex island as enjoyable to visit as her book is to read.
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Format: Paperback
I couldn't put this book down. Surely it's partially because my heritage is from that area of Sicily and I haven't ever been there. Mary Taylor Simeti's book was so descriptive that I now feel like I've actually visited. The dialect of the people is as if I was reading about my own grandparents. As an American she true-ly captured the flavor of the Sicilian people so vividly that I sometimes could smell the food as I was reading the pages. I also recieved an education on Greek Myth. Gratzia Mary Taylor Simeti from Denise
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Format: Paperback
Simeti has crafted an unflinchingly honest, intellegent, and evocative portrait of Sicily. By refusing to romanticize the island, or overlook its flaws, she manages to bring out an image of a beautiful, conflicted, and vital culture. Her descriptions of the people and the countryside make this a wonderful book to curl up with; her scholarly tidbits make you want to learn more about mythology. A wonderful read.
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