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On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal Paperback – September 26, 1995
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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 the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
Every aspect of daily Sicilian life is recounted: the feasts and celebrations, the rural traditions, the city routines. Knowing Sicily well, I knew all these depictions to be true.
I did feel that the book went on a bit too long, however, and seemed at times considerably repetitive and a bit too langorous. Yet the writing is beautiful and intelligent, and the writer is enjoying painting her Sicilian life in all its detail.
Were it slightly more concise, it would be a perfect read!
I was delighted to see that Mary Taylor Simeti had done a travelogue of Sicily, because I remembered her charming tale of Queen Constance and her various travels around Italy that I read some years ago. I was not disappointed in this book. Simeti plans her book around a year, starting with the old New Year that occurred November 1st, with the Feast of the Dead, and gradually working her way around the seasons so that the end of the book finished one year later.
Although she spends much time discussing her garden and her various meanderings around the Sicilian countryside with her family, this book is also a snapshot of life in Sicily during 1982-1983. I was a young woman then, freshly married, and her vivid prose enabled me to go back in time nearly thirty years ago, to re-remember events that I had completely gotten, such as the Italian government's successful attempts to divert the lava flow of Mount Etna, so that it did not go into populated areas. (They did this using dynamite). But I loved this book because of Simeti's relentless quest for the shadow of Persephone and the Greek civilization that existed on Sicily so many years ago. Highly recommended. Four stars.