By Frances Mayes
Memoir, hardbound, 280 pages
I believe there is no review on this 1996 book without mention of the film version. I, for one, have seen the film first starring Diane Lane before I read this book. Thus, I am setting the record straight here: they have different storyline although the house is the gravitating factor in both. Of course, I have to mention that the film is inspired by the book.
Mayes said that her book came out from the notes she has taken down and mementos she had saved for four years when she and her husband purchased the Bramasole (To yearn for sun) property in Cortona, Italy.
As I go on with the book, I wished for a map of the whole Tuscany to at least understand the route taken by the writer and a sort of map of the Cortona town. Thanks to google, I had clearer picture while reading the book. Tuscany is an Italian central region with Florence as its capital province while Cortona is a town in Arezzo province. I can say with confidence now that the Tuscan sun shines through many provinces. As for the Cortona town as well as its neighboring towns, the writer’s narration could have been best appreciated with illustrated maps or something. At any rate, I shift back and forth from book to google to imagine the locations in the story; I can only imagine that earlier readers of this book open real maps.
I love the fact that Mayes has an eagle eye for details which can only be attained by religiously keeping a journal. But she has no poetic rhythm in her story telling. It is like facts being woven to form a story. While I love her for her passion, I cannot feel her as she tells me about it. I almost gave up halfway through the book (the restoration details did not deserve that length) but that was about when the house renovation and restoration details were done. Mayes has the literary technique but she has the want of charisma. If it is not for my genuine interest on Tuscany (perhaps brought about by the film’s visual representation), cooking, and fresh produce, I would have given up.
Half-way through her storytelling till the end, Mayes shared her intimate thoughts on travelling and religion, as well as her recipes. While she bared her intimate thoughts to her readers, she seems not endearing still. I want to really like her as a writer but I can only simply conclude that while in real life she might be a magnet, as a writer she simply lacks it.
To prove it, I finished the book but I was not compelled to look for a colored pen to highlight a passage! For me, the shining moments of the memoir are not major but only contributed to the overall charm the book had on me such as when she was making her private thoughts on Etruscan cemetery, on Catholicism, on the Italian tradition of la passeggiata and siesta as well as while she introduces her recipe.
Another salvation the book had is when Mayes peppered her memoir with Italian terms along the way with ready translation as well as she salted it with many poems and quotes in enough proportions.
After reading her book on her quests in buying the property in another continent, restoring and renovating it for years and her shuttling back and forth from America to Italy, I can only surmise her financial freedom. She is a university professor in America and now a writer after the book was out. She must be born rich for having their own cook in her parent’s house in Georgia and her own seamstress!
And as for me now that I finished the book, I can say that my cooking class in Tuscany is still just a dream. In the meantime (and this is not sourgraping), I shall make sure that my Tuscan Sun shine bright where I am right now. This same personal yearning for the foreign sun, I guess, is the reason why this book deserved many republication!