Swift, sinuous, deep and brimming with cultural artifacts.

THAT SUMMER IN SICILY

A LOVE STORY

From de Blasi (The Lady in the Palazzo, 2007, etc.), a fragrant tale of life and love in the mountains of Sicily.

Shortly after the Venetian interlude she luxuriously captured in A Thousand Days in Venice (2002), the author accepted an assignment to write a magazine article on the interior regions of Sicily. Like many other journalists, she was met by silence from the wary Sicilians. She was about to retire to the mainland when she stumbled upon Villa Donnafugata, whose romantic turrets, towers, balconies and chromatically tiled roof were surrounded by gardens, fields, piazzas and hills. The black-draped, oldish women in residence tended to their various labors, chanted, laughed and prayed. The sun was hot, the smell of herbs suffused the air. Was this a fever dream? de Blasi wondered. No, but it was surely a place from another time, and how it emerged out of feudalism through an act of moral modernity was a story unfurled to the author by the villa’s mistress, Tosca. The tale, which comprises most of the book, is a marvel. As a child of nine or ten, Tosca was sent by her horse-breeder father to live with a Sicilian prince, Leo, who “had a stallion that Tosca’s father wanted more than his daughter.” Early rebellion gave way to affection, then love. Together, in the years following World War II, the prince and his ward brought education, health care and a shared sense of purpose to the village around their manor. Rapture and grief came in measured doses, but ultimately Leo was run out of town for his affront to the “centuries’-old system of hierarchy that kept the wealthy in comfort and the poor in misery.” Even in 1995, when de Blasi first visited Donnafugata, the old ways abided, like the shawl Tosca wore at night, still permeated with the scent of her beloved.

Swift, sinuous, deep and brimming with cultural artifacts.

Pub Date: May 20, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-345-49765-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2008

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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A brief but sometimes knotty and earnest set of studies best suited for Shakespeare enthusiasts.

THIS IS SHAKESPEARE

A brisk study of 20 of the Bard’s plays, focused on stripping off four centuries of overcooked analysis and tangled reinterpretations.

“I don’t really care what he might have meant, nor should you,” writes Smith (Shakespeare Studies/Oxford Univ.; Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book, 2016, etc.) in the introduction to this collection. Noting the “gappy” quality of many of his plays—i.e., the dearth of stage directions, the odd tonal and plot twists—the author strives to fill those gaps not with psychological analyses but rather historical context for the ambiguities. She’s less concerned, for instance, with whether Hamlet represents the first flower of the modern mind and instead keys into how the melancholy Dane and his father share a name, making it a study of “cumulative nostalgia” and our difficulty in escaping our pasts. Falstaff’s repeated appearances in multiple plays speak to Shakespeare’s crowd-pleasing tendencies. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a bawdier and darker exploration of marriage than its teen-friendly interpretations suggest. Smith’s strict-constructionist analyses of the plays can be illuminating: Her understanding of British mores and theater culture in the Elizabethan era explains why Richard III only half-heartedly abandons its charismatic title character, and she is insightful in her discussion of how Twelfth Night labors to return to heterosexual convention after introducing a host of queer tropes. Smith's Shakespeare is eminently fallible, collaborative, and innovative, deliberately warping play structures and then sorting out how much he needs to un-warp them. Yet the book is neither scholarly nor as patiently introductory as works by experts like Stephen Greenblatt. Attempts to goose the language with hipper references—Much Ado About Nothing highlights the “ ‘bros before hoes’ ethic of the military,” and Falstaff is likened to Homer Simpson—mostly fall flat.

A brief but sometimes knotty and earnest set of studies best suited for Shakespeare enthusiasts.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4854-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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