A light and sweet account of an outsider’s encounter with Italy’s education system, customs, and cuisine.

LIKE A NATIVE

TEACHING ENGLISH, LIVING ITALIAN

An American physician takes a post teaching English to Italian schoolchildren in this debut memoir.

Disillusioned with medicine and a dead-end relationship, Morris accepted a temporary teaching position in the small Italian city of Civitanova, exchanging public school classes and private tutoring for free room and board with his charming host family, the Pezzonis. Morris experienced Italian life outside of the tourist centers of Rome and Florence and certainly cut an anomalous figure while doing it: a middle-aged American man in a school operated almost entirely by stylish Italian women, lacking a salary or car and subsequently totally dependent on his hosts. He was virtually the only American tutor in the area who was male or above the age of 30. Yet the education challenges he encountered should be familiar to teachers from all walks of life: overcrowded classrooms, easily distracted and hormonally charged students, and institutional chaos. Morris was a committed, genuinely passionate teacher, and as the semester progressed he explored techniques to engage both his rambunctious public school students and his private pupils. He eventually became the strict yet beloved disciplinarian of the school and, at the end of the year, organized an English-speaking contest that culminated in an emotional awards ceremony. Meanwhile, he sampled the neighborhood winery at bargain prices, introduced his Italian hosts to American-style chili, and engaged in brief flirtations with his fellow teachers. The narrative fires rapidly through encounters with many different students, which can make keeping track of who is who difficult. Morris expresses frustrated bemusement at his American colleagues’ inability to articulate why they are teaching English in Italy but doesn’t share an answer for himself. A more probing exploration of Morris’ own past and psyche, beyond a few hints regarding romantic strife, professional frustration, and familial estrangement, would render his triumphs and failures more impactful. Leaving the story of a man walking away from his old life essentially untold, the book instead delivers a slight travelogue that overflows with Morris’ clear love of Italian culture, food, and people.

A light and sweet account of an outsider’s encounter with Italy’s education system, customs, and cuisine.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5372-3934-7

Page Count: 190

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2017

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US

A MEMOIR

In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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