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A thoroughly charming memoir of a childhood in Italy between the world wars. The English have always loved Italy, especially Tuscany. Nourished by romantic visions and illusions, they—ve flocked there to buy up large tracts of land and working farms. Aubrey Waterfield, the artist, was one of many such. He purchased La Fortezza della Brunella, an imposing 16th-century castle set on a hill, in 1916. With him he brought his wife, son John, and five-year-old daughter Carinthia (who became Kinta Beevor). Their Anglo-American coterie included only the very best of families and such luminaries as Bernard Berenson and D.H. Lawrence. The children were more fascinated, though, by their father’s fanciful “garden in the sky,” a splendid Eden perched on the castle’s roof. The castle—from its immense kitchen and sumptuous odors to the legend of a massacred garrison still haunting the place—became the focal point of life. By her own admission, Beevor’s childhood was formed more by her contact with the locals and an imperious aunt than with her mother. Humorous, witty, and insightful comments abound here on the cultural differences separating the English and the Italians: e.g., regarding personal relationships, the rearing of children, and the preparation and consumption of food. Speaking of her parents, the late Beevor (who died in 1995) writes, “They had all of the luxuries of life but none of the necessities . . . they seldom had money for those things that their relations considered the basis of civilized life.” Reflecting on the Italians, she observes (as have many others): “Fundamentally, the Italian wants to give pleasure.” And: “The Italians, unlike the Germans, were saved from the worst effects of ideology by their own cynicism about politics and the press,” though the author does detail the cruel barbarism of the Fascists and Nazis during WWII. The nostalgic, enchanting book closes on a note of infinite sadness in remembering a way of life now lost. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 8th, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40462-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999


NonfictionQUEEN BEE OF TUSCANY by Ben Downing
by Ben Downing