Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Under the Tuscan Sun

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Under the Tuscan Sun
Author: Frances Mayes
Date: 1996
Publisher: Broadway / Bantam Doubleday Dell
ISBN: 0-7679-0038-3
Length: 280 pages
Quote: “My reader, I hope, is like a friend who comes to visit, learns to mound flour on the thick marble counter and work in the egg.”
Frances Mayes bought a house in Italy. More people wanted to visit her than she could entertain, so she wrote a book about the house. This book has been a bestseller, even though it’s family-friendly with only occasional flashes of dry humor. It’s not likely to make any college reading lists, but it’s a very enjoyable read, a sensory tour of a big country house written skillfully enough to give readers a wholesome mental escape from their boring commute or dismal hospital stays. It’s an almost perfect pillow book. Sort of ironic, in view of recent news stories from Tuscany, but a pleasant read.
Its one flaw as a pillow book might be the continual references to Real Italian Food, or specifically Tuscan food, the delicacies that grow in Tuscany and wouldn’t be the same in other parts of Italy. The secret is all those fresh vegetables. Our protagonists live in the country and have masses of vegetables to use up. “We no longer measure, but just cook...ingredients of the moment are the best guides” to creating their own new, authentic Italian dishes. Simmer chicken and vegetable scraps, skim the broth, add tomatoes and herbs as available, and sup. Cook pasta until it’s soft enough, add greens, cream, cooked meat, and grated cheese, toss them together and eat. Shell peas, mince shallots, soften them in butter, add a little mint, salt and pepper, chop this into a paste, and spread it on toast. Absolutely nothing to it...if you have garden-fresh vegetables. If you have to buy vegetables in a supermarket the recipes won’t turn out half as good. And if you don’t need to think about food when you’re not cooking or eating, Under the Tuscan Sun qualifies as “food porn.”
But of course Italians do other things as well as eat. Our protagonists settle in, and see the sights in the nearby towns. They go to night concerts in the town square, visit a museum and describe the elaborate fourth-century candelabrum, go to what’s ordinarily the movie theatre and watch the ballet. Nothing more “exciting” or like the plot of a novel happens to them than the renovation of the house, but it’s all fresh and new to Americans and it all feels good.

This book was a bestseller because everyone enjoys reading it once. So, Under the Tuscan Sun is recommended to anyone who hasn’t read it. It's tasteful, it's tasty, it's a Fair Trade Book, and if you buy it here for $5 + $5 shipping we'll send Mayes or a charity of her choice $1. And you can add a few other things to the package for that $5 shipping cost, too.