Thursday, September 18, 2014

Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes - Book Review

A few words from Frances Mayes, a few pictures from my trip to Tuscany

...the thousand chances, trivial to profound, that converged to recreate this place. 
Any arbitrary turning along the way and I would be elsewhere; I would be different...

The book 'Under the Tuscan Sun' by Frances Mayes was suggested to me by my sister-in-law a couple years ago; she highly recommended it and said it’s very unlike the movie which I absolutely detested and it was her recommendation that I put this book on my reading list. Once I returned from our recent trip to Italy and the travel guidebooks were neatly tucked away the urge to read something about Italy overpowered me and I checked out the book from the local library.

I don't think it is just the Italy hangover that made me love the book as much as I did. The poetic quality of the author’s words drew me in initially and as I worked my way through this memoir, I realized that I totally identified with the author’s wanderlust. It is not a pursuit of running away and getting lost but instead it is a journey deeper in to finding your own self.

Being a lover of history and culture and a structural engineer by profession, the book struck several chords with me and there were times when I wanted to reach into the book and help during the renovation process or join the long walks.
As the back of the book cover says, it’s a memoir of author restoring an abandoned villa in Tuscany, Italy. It is that and along with that it is a story of restoring ones soul; peel the layer of learnt behavior on pretext of immersing into a new lifestyle and new culture just to discover your own true self.

The book talks about rehabilitating the house, the terrace, connecting the original home to what used to be an old chapel and planting new trees and shrubs to restore the land. She went back ever summer and worked at restoring the place and then started spending Christmas break in Tuscany as well, the whole account mentions three years’ worth of home and land renovation. And the book slowly transitions into the joys of making a home in Tuscany, cooking with local ingredients, entertaining, celebrating festivals and making olive oil from the olives trees on their land etc. It was refreshing to hear about the accounts of frustration that are an obvious part of such a restoration work and the twists caused by cultural differences. She talked about disappointments but didn't linger on them, she quickly transitioned to mentioning the work that was accomplished and how she plans to decorate it or use it.
The characters were developed so beautifully that it didn't seem like you are reading just out of a diary but from a well thought out novel. And it is very unlike the movie. In fact except for the name and the location, the movie completely missed out on catching subtlety of the real story that was being told and instead focused on the renovation of a Tuscan house by a single American woman.

The book ended, there was no mystery, no climax, no unexpected twist and drama yet there is a lingering appetite for more. More of the mundane everyday life that is very unlike anything that I have lived so far… I'll, for sure, be going back for more of her book in the Tuscany sequence. In fact I want to acquire a copy of this book for my own collection as I picture myself going back to some of the written words and also to the numerous recipes that were mentioned…

p.s. I couldn't help myself and inserted some of my own Tuscany pictures through the post

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