A debut memoir by an American woman who relocated to Tuscany in the 1970s, which also acts as a biography of her Italian in-laws.
Calhoun begins her remembrance in 1986, when she was mourning the loss of her mother-in-law, Alda Rafanelli. Then the story begins to jump back and forth in time, highlighting important moments in both women’s lives. Before long, the narrative shifts to 1923, when Alda first met her husband, Floro Rafanelli, a handsome young man from a neighboring property; Calhoun recounts the tale of their initial meeting, which she learned from her mother-in-law. It wasn’t long before Alda and Floro fell in love and married. In a later section, the author tells of how Alda moved into the Rafanelli villa, joining Floro’s two brothers and his parents. Alda’s mother-in-law, Elvira, is described as a warm, loving woman who was taken for granted; she received little thanks for cooking elaborate meals and keeping house, and Alda worried that her own life might follow a similar trajectory. Then Floro began attending political meetings with local fascists. Along the way, Calhoun intermittently jumps back to the 1970s, showing her own courtship with Aldo, Alda’s son, and illustrating the ways in which her life intersected with Alda’s, whose story extends to just after World War II. Throughout this book, the author effectively makes use of her dual-timeline structure to provide a detailed account of the lives of two women in the same family. With evocative descriptions of decadent Italian meals and lush vegetation, Calhoun tells her tale in a compelling manner that will keep readers turning pages and rooting for the women’s success as their respective lives are revealed. Her depictions of the Tuscan countryside are particularly vivid and engaging. She also provides accessible details about the political upheaval in Italy in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s.
A captivating story about Italian culture, tradition, and long-lasting family connections.