‘See Naples and die’, said Goethe. But Katherine Wilson saw Naples and started to live.
Katherine is fresh out of college when she arrives in Naples to intern at the US Consulate. There she meets handsome, studious Salvatore, and finds herself enveloped by his family – in particular by his elegant mother, Raffaella, who begins her real education: never eat the crust of a pizza first, always stand up and fight for yourself and your loved ones, and remember that mealtimes are sacred.
Immersed in Neapolitan culture, tradition and cooking, slowly and unexpectedly falling for Salvatore, and basking in Raffaella’s company and guidance, Katherine discovers how to prepare meals that sing, from rich ragù to pasta al forno, with bacon, béchamel and four kinds of cheese. Through courtship, culture clashes, Sunday Mass, marriage and motherhood, Katherine slowly comes to appreciate carnale, the quintessentially Neapolitan sense of comfort and confidence in one’s own skin.
Steeped in sunlight, wine and unforgettable food, Only in Naples is a love letter to a city and a family, a coming-of-age story, and a transporting account of learning to live the Italian way.
My Review (publication date 19 April)
When Katherine Wilson left Washington DC to take up an unpaid internship at the American Consulate in Naples, little did she know it would lead to an ongoing love affair with Naples and one Neapolitan in particular. This well told memoir, introduces us not only to Katherine and her future family but also provides an interesting look into her own family background – an interesting contrast between WASP and Italian Catholic.
Katherine is taken under the wing of Raffaella Avollone and on her first visit is introduced to her son Salvatore. This initial meeting is not auspicious and nearly falters very early on by Katherine’s misunderstanding of the Italian equivalents of “see you later” and “speak soon” which she takes as an instruction and virtually stalks Salvatore with daily phone calls. It is revelations like this that not only emphasize Katherine’s naivety, but are indicative of further humorous incidents that litter the book.
I liked Katherine and Salvatore, but I loved Rafaella. An archetypal Italian mother in many ways, she was also very progressive and accepting of Katherine, despite the many cultural and religious differences. A lesson that society as a whole could do well to learn. Her love is expressed through cooking and her food almost has it’s own language, taking on qualities over and above it’s
basic function of sustenance. I loved this aspect of the book, but not sure I’ll be attempting the 5 hour ragu sauce, that is a labour of love above and beyond in my culinary repertoire.
What made this memoir more enjoyable for me, was that while it followed a timeline that started with Katherine’s first visit to Naples and ended with marriage it wasn’t a rigid this happened and then that happened. Instead Katherine chooses to pick out relevant events and moments to highlight her “journey” and absorption into her future family.
It’s an easy read, told with love and humour. What it cleverly manages to do is almost instill in the reader a growing love of all things Neapolitan, note Neapolitan rather than Italian. What we often forget is that the country we recognise as Italy is relatively young. The Risorgimento, (meaning “Rising Again”), was a 19th-century movement for Italian unification that culminated in the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. Consequently there are unique historical and cultural differences between the once nation states. What we get from this memoir is a strong sense of the culture and customs that pervade everyday life.
I suspect for someone wanting a deeper more analytical look into contemporary Neapolitan life, this might be too superficial, but for me the book “does what it says on the tin” (wonder how that translates outside the UK). It is one woman’s look at her version of Naples as learned from her Mother-in-Law, it is for the most part lighthearted, heartwarming and filled with food and love – what’s not to like?
I received a review copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.