Monday, March 28, 2016

Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law

Title:  Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law
Author:  Katherine Wilson
Publication Information:  Random House. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0812998162 / 978-0812998160

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In Greek mythology, Sirens hang out on the rocky cliffs near Naples with their gorgeous curly hair, singing songs that entice sailors to the coast."

Favorite Quote:  "... your behavior inside your home is the real indicator of your character. Not in the workplace, not in school. Sure, it's nice to look good when you leave your home, and make a bella figure. But in terms of your identity, the most important thing is who you are with your parents, with your children, with your cousins. Th most important thing is how you behave with he people who really matter."

A memoir filled with family and food in the beautiful setting of Naples, Italy holds such promise. I enjoy memoirs. I enjoy travel writing. I enjoy food writing. I enjoy family stories. I really expect to enjoy this book for I expect it to be a combination of all these things. It is, to an extent, but unfortunately not in a way that I find enjoyable.

First, for a memoir, this book presents a lifestyle that I find myself completely unable to relate to. Katherine Wilson is the great-granddaughter of the founder of Wilson Sporting Goods. She is in Naples on an internship but really for "an experience abroad ... footed by my parents' dollars." Naples is not her destination of choice; rather "the serene splendor of Tuscany would have been appropriate for an upper-class girl like me." The internship consists of starting with a late morning coffee going into two hour lunches. Her inherited trust funds are "enough to allow me to buy an apartment in Italy."  What is interesting is the very casual way in which this lifestyle is presented. It seems as if privilege is so taken for granted that it is not viewed as privilege. That tone makes it not the book for me.

Second, for a travel memoir, the book does not really describe Naples or the other places where Ms. Wilson travels. The story is not really about the place, but rather her experiences at a given time in her life. The experiences are centered around the American consulate and the Avallone family home. The Consulate is described as "a big white square building on the waterfront of Mergellina, the port where motorboats leave for Capri and Ischia." The book then unfortunately includes no descriptions of Mergellina, which could be beautiful as my imagination of Italy suggests or not. Having never been to Naples, I expect to see it in this book. I except to be taken along to the splendors of Italy; unfortunately, the book ends up in the Avallone's kitchen.

Third, for a food memoir, I expect food and recipes to be a more integral part of the book. Throughout, the book hints at the author's issues with weight and diets, but this is not explored. This book also has food and recipes, but they seem incidental to the story. They seemed to be consciously made a part of the book to make it a food memoir. The recipes included at the end are more story than direction, with instructions to put on an apron, take off your rings, and keep your pants on. The book seems as if it is trying too hard to be funny; I would rather have a straight-up authentic recipe from her mother-in-law.

Fourth, for a family story, this book lacks the warmth I expect. It's unclear whether the book is aiming for humor, or if the somewhat uncharitable tone towards other people is unintentional. For example, "Salvatore arrived in America with gel in his hair, wearing a checked dress shirt tucked into beige pants. He was carrying a man-purse..." The family members unfortunately come across almost as caricatures.

I expected to really like this book based on the title and description; I still feel like given all the elements it was supposed to be about, I should like it. Unfortunately, it is not the book for me even though the fact that it is about a young woman, food, family, and travel says it should be exactly the book for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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