Book review by Wendy Ridolini
When her father’s best friend returns to Abruzzo, Lucrezia, a beautiful widow, finds herself drawn to this handsome American who is also haunted by tragedy, and together they embark on a passionate relationship that heals the pain of the past and gives them both a second chance at love. In this delightful, moving novel, Peter Pezzelli brings to life the earthy sensuality of Italy’s Abruzzo region— the smell of just-baked bread wafting through the village piazza; the shopkeepers sweeping the sidewalks first thing in the morning; groups of cyclists dotting the mountain roads—and spins a story of May-December romance as sharp and delicious as the olives of Villa San Giuseppe.
This is a lovely, easy read and feel-good book — the perfect read for anyone seeking an escape to the Italian countryside. It is a story about the trials and tribulations of life. Marriage, love, work, friends and family, sometimes death and tragedy. It is about new beginnings and starting over. Grief settles heavily over Peppino, our main character, an immigrant living in America. We have an immediate empathy for him. After the death of his beloved wife, Anna, he decides to return to the family mulino in Villa San Giuseppe, a small village in the Abruzzi mountains near Sulmona, a place where he was born and spent his formative years.
An important thread running through the book is Peppi’s passion for cycling. From being a boy in Italy he had loved to race on his bicycle with his best friend Luca and other cycling enthusiasts in a group. Together, they had won many races. Once we fast forward the years in between, Luca still cycles but is no longer the leader of the group.
“The group of cyclists was assembled by the fountain when Luca finally rode on the piazza. Years ago, when he was young, he would have been the first one there. Still, he was greatly respected by all for the racing exploits of his youth.”
There is such a heart-warming moment in the story when, on one Sunday morning, the group encounters an older rider cycling towards them up the hill. Luca pauses and gazes through his dark sunglasses at the newcomer.
“There was something so familiar about the rider, something about his posture as he rolled up the group.”
Luca realises instantly that this is none other than his childhood friend Peppi. He has returned ‘home to Italy.’ Peppi’s prowess as a racing cyclist is still remembered in the village. The two men instantly re-connect and rekindle their childhood friendship. Peppi is welcomed into the family and introduced to their daughter Lucrezia who manages the family business making confetti, the delicious hard-shelled candy sold all over Italy.
The first race of the Giro D’Italia was organized in 1909 and the prologue, a short time trial, is the race which features in the story. The cyclists compete on the open road, an arm’s length from the crowds that line the pavements. The real fans, the ‘tifiosi’ line the steep mountain roads, running along the cyclists, screaming in their ears, exhorting them to pedal harder.
“For three or four miles the cyclists tear apart their hearts and lungs in a desperate attempt to show the cycling world that they have come to Italy ready to race. It is basic and brutal. It is not for nothing that they call it ‘La corsa di Verita,’ the race of truth.”
I feel the relevance of cycling in the book is more about friendship, endurance and the sense of achievement and I feel the author uses the analogy to justify the primal instinct that is satisfied from cycling. Or it is just a connection to that instinct? It’s the challenge, the exertion, the risk, pushing oneself out of the comfort zone in a physical way. Stirring and satisfying one’s sense of adventure at the same time.
Why I recommend this book
Even from the first chapter, the author evokes the atmosphere on a parallel with the storytelling.
“After the funeral, they all went back to the house. It was a cold bleak day with a raw north wind that drove a slow procession of dark clouds through the early November sky.”
For anyone who likes Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, this book has the same evocative landscapes, colourful characters and a strong message that when tragedy, heartbreak or misfortune strikes, we must have the strength of resolve, like Peppi to get moving again in a positive direction, to spend time with people you care about and do things that make you feel better.
Peter Pezzelli captures the essence of Italian family life which is so charming and alluring. This is the foundation stone of Italian culture and is characterized by loyalty and closeness. Italian cultural traditions place the highest priority on the family,
“I had lots of cousins” says Peppi to a fellow passenger on the train. “So there always lots of people in our home. I never felt lonely, at least not until the war came and suddenly everyone began to disappear.”
Eating and celebrating together plays a significant role in creating social cohesion and a real sense of belonging. As one would expect, there are many paragraphs devoted to food and each meal meticulously described. I would expect no less from any Italian author! From the pasta alla chitarra to the secondo piatto of tripe boiled and served in a zesty tomato sauce to the main course of roasted lamb served with artichokes and fennel.
“There is a no more powerful reminder of days past than the aroma and flavour of the food one loves.” All in all, the meal was a staggering performance.”
There are many Italian phrases used in the book which readers may or not know. Nothing too complex but it adds authenticity to the book. Greetings are part of Italian life. Readers will engage with this delightful story.
Author bio: Peter Pezelli
Born and raised in Rhode Island, Peter Pezzelli grew up in the town of North Providence. After college, Peter travelled for several weeks in Italy before coming home to begin training to be an administrator in his family’s nursing home business. He did not begin dabbling on the side with a writing career until later in his twenties when his girlfriend (and future wife) bought him an electric typewriter for his birthday.
Other books by Peter Pezelli:
The Glassblowers Apprentice