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Italy - BOOKS Expat memoirs about living in Italy

Pauline

Forums Admin
#1
When I became obsessed about Italy in the mid-90s, I read every expat memoir available. I got everything published in the US and I would go to the English language section of bookstores in Italy and buy every self-published memoir I could find. Finally I tired of them mostly because they seemed to be all the same - the wine harvest, the olive harvest, how to make charcoal, the endless homemade wine, how they are type A in the US or wherever and change immediately when setting foot in Italy.

Recently I started reading some again. Here is my short list. Please post with your recommendations or non-recommendations. NOTE I am adding recommendations from posts below to this list.

RECOMMENDED - Recent publications

Return to the Glow by Chandi Wyatt (Red Red Wine on the forums). I liked this memoir about Chandi walking the Via Francigena pilgrimage trail. She had a difficult time with the walk because of problems with her feet. She gives a nice description of the trail and the towns along the way. Along with the travel story is her personal back story and why she is doing the walk. She is recovering from a serious illness and a divorce. This part of the story was well told and fit well with the walking story.

At Least You are in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell. I liked this memoir about an American woman living in Montepulciano. It annoyed me how unprepared she was, but it was an interesting read. Jennifer Criswell's website. Recommended by Pauline.

Finding Rome on the Map of Love by Estelle Johnson. My Amazon review: "I really enjoyed this book. The author is from South Africa and moved to Rome with her Italian boyfriend. At the time of the book she is in her late 30s and has lived in a few other countries. She writes about a year in Rome in a series of stories that take you through her story and her observations of life around her. Interesting, informative and well written. ..." Ann Reavis has an interview with her on Tuscan Traveler. Recommended by Pauline.

Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo by Tim Parks. Part memoir, part travelogue of Italy. Interesting comments on life in Italy. Recommended by Pauline.

A Footpath in Umbria: Learning, Loving and Laughing in Italy by Nancy Yuktonis Solak. A nice book about a couple from Detroit who go to Italy once, fall in love with the country, and return to spend a year. The husband is newly retired, the wife takes a leave of absence from her job. Great details about how they did the move, differences between their life in Italy and the US, and her emotional changes from the year. Her website - A Reluctant Traveler. Recommended by Pauline.

Head Over Heel by Chris Harrison (recommended by Rebecca). ... was also a fun read without any of the "move to Italy" sap.

I really loved Michael Tucker's book Living in a Foreign Language about finding a home near Spoleto and falling in love (naturally) with Umbria! His blog is also lots of fun as well. Recommended by Sandrac (also Rebecca, Heidi). Valerie does not recommend.

Passion on the Vine: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Family in the Heart of Italy by Sergio Esposito. Recommended by Roz.

One delightful book little memoir is Anthony Doerr's Four Season's in Rome. Doerr describes his year as a fellow of liturature at the American Academy in Rome, with his wife and their newly born twin boys. The sub-title of the book is: on twins, insomnia, and the biggest funeral in the history of the world. I really enjoyed his perspective on Roma, his humor, and excellent writing skills! Recommended by Heidi.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

RECOMMENDED - Older publications

I've also heard Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, is a good memoir about living in Parma. Recommended by Heidi (also Sandrac, Pauline).

One of my favourites is Annie Hawes' Extra Virgin about running an olive grove in Liguria. Recommended by Dana (also Roz, Pauline). Annie Hawes has also written two sequels to Extra Virgin: The first was Ripe for the Picking and then Journey to the South: A Calabrian Homecoming. Recommended by Roz.

Another good one that I just remembered is Mary Taylor Simeti's On Persephone's Island, written after she spent 20 years living in Sicily. Recommended by Dana (and ItalophileNJ).

I also remember liking As the Romans Do by Alan Epstein. Recommended by Krista (and Pauline).

Frances Mayes' second book Bella Tuscany. Recommended by Krista.

David Yeadon, "Seasons in Basilicata". I don't remember much about it except that it was great and actually described life in the area rather than being the Peter Mayes "dealing with persnickety tradesmen" ilk. And he's a good writer. Recommended by ItalophileNJ.

NOT RECOMMENDED

My Home Sweet Rome: Living (and Loving) in the Eternal City by Sari Gilbert. I remember Sari from the SlowTrav boards and was excited to read her book. I think it is potentially good, even great, but needs editing and proofreading. She talks a lot about life in Italy which is interesting, and then about her sexual escapades which should have been interesting but weren't. I was annoyed by all the typos and the book didn't flow well.

The Diary Of A Single Parent Abroad by Jill Pennington. I was so frustrated by her actions that in the end I didn't even care how it all worked out, and didn't even finish the book. Not recommended by artnbarb.
 
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#2
I just read one I didn't care for at all, but of course you know I'm critical by nature, and hyper-critical when it comes to this kind of book! I'll have to dig to find the name of the book - I deleted it from my Kindle, knowing I'd never, ever want to read it again.....it too was filled with typos and very poor editing....
 
#3
OK, I can't find it on my order list, probably because it was free, and because I've deleted it now. It was about an English woman who moved to Italy w/her kids and husband, but as soon as they arrived the husband left her....she was beyond broke, the (ex) husband became rather successful but never paid child support....and after a while I just got irritated with everyone involved and just didn't care. Anyone know this book/story?
 

Pauline

Forums Admin
#5
I would love to read Diana's memoir, but that book was chick-lit. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I was hoping for something different. Hopefully she is writing the memoir now.
 
#6
You are right but there is very much of herself there, just a little more drama!

But you are right, too many olive groves out there, lots of complaints about the fact that there is no peanut butter and not always a lot of understanding of the country and its people. I'd be interested in something different!
 
#9
I loved Jennifer Criswell's book (my husband even read it and liked it) and I told her I'd be stalking her when we return to Montepulciano this June.;) Head Over Heel by Chris Harrison was also a fun read without any of the "move to Italy" sap.

Barb, was your book The Diary of a Single Parent Abroad?
 
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#10
I really loved Michael Tucker's book Living in a Foreign Language about finding a home near Spoleto and falling in love (naturally) with Umbria! His blog is also lots of fun as well.
Pauline, I also tried to read Sari Gilbert's My Home Sweet Rome and it irritated me so much I couldn't get past the free excerpt!
 

Heidi

100+ Posts
#14
I have a problem here ~ too many memoirs about living in Italia! This is mainly due to a friend who has nothing better to do in life than read. He plies the Friends' used book sales in the San Fransisco Bay Area and picks-up anything for me about Italy. I've politely asked him to stop, but he continues to obsessively collect for me. It's a good thing I can pass books on to my Friends group and my Little Free Library in Dutch Flat (I'm the "steward" of this little gem but it is not set in front of my house, as the site implies; it's located in front of our Golden Drift Museum!)

I'm pleased to see a recommendation of Living in a Foreign Language from both Sandra and Rebecca ~ now I can set this aside to read. I've also heard Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, is a good memoir about living in Parma. It's residing in my "to read!" pile.

One delightful book little memoir is Anthony Doerr's Four Season's in Rome. Doerr describes his year as a fellow of liturature at the American Academy in Rome, with his wife and their newly born twin boys. The sub-title of the book is: on twins, insomnia, and the biggest funeral in the history of the world. I really enjoyed his perspective on Roma, his humor, and excellent writing skills!
 
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#15
Heidi, I enjoyed the Wallis Wilde-Menozzi book, it is a bit more serious than some of the others. An American friend who has lived here for 40 years thinks it hits some very accurate points!
 
#16
I haven't read any in a while either, many are either too "vacation-y" (nothing to do but roam around the countryside eating and drinking) or too formula (grape harvest, olive harvest, as Pauline said). I'm sure publishers don't think it's interesting to have details of bureaucracy, cultural adaptation, and such intertwined into the descriptions of the countryside and wine drinking.

I didn't like Living in Foreign Language. It seemed they did very little of it, hanging with English speakers and driving around with cases of Prosecco to pop open at every turn. To me it seemed a little too 'living apart'. Tim Parks' new one, on the other hand, might lure me back into the expats in Italy genre!
 

Heidi

100+ Posts
#18
Thanks all, for reminding me about Tim Park's Italian Ways.
I saved a NY Time's review because it looked so interesting ~ to quote a line from the article:
This mix of piercing social observation and undying affection for Italy is classic Parks.
Nothing soppy or vacation-y about it, I believe. Possibly refreshing :D
 

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