ON PERSEPHONE's ISLAND: A Sicilian Journal by Mary Taylor Simeti

ON PERSEPHONE's ISLAND: A Sicilian Journal

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Attractive, painterly pastorale of the author's past 20 years in Sicily, mainly in the country, with little or no story and yet exerting a strong sensual grip that sustains interest on every page. A Radcliffe grad, Simeti came to Sicily for a term of study at the Danilo Dolci Center, was wooed and won by a local teacher, and settled down to raise a family while still teaching. The Simetis have a farm at Bosco and divide their year between teaching and caring for their crops. The Sicilian climate, which is rainless from April to late fall and then drenched by gloomy two-week downpours, has some clear parallels to the story of Persephone bringing spring from the underworld, and Simeti at least sees similar likenesses in her life's divisions between the States and Sicily, city teaching and country farming. What flavors her book irresistibly are the smells of fresh olive oil -- ""Sicilian olive oil is a far cry from the pale insipid stuff that is exported to the States""--on salted hot bread, the tomato sauces, tangerines, and marzipan, the vital landscapes, the vigorous country work. During II Morte, the festival of the dead which is the biggest holiday in Sicily, marzipan blossoms into every conceivable imitation of real food, as ""pomegranates bursting with seeds, roast chestnuts tinged with the bloom of ashes. . .fried eggs and peas. . .cakes of soap, sandwiches with the filling dribbling out. . .fish of every size and species, clams and mussels, squid and shrimp. . .peanuts, hazelnuts, toasted chick-peas and pumpkin seeds. . ."" The Simetis find Palermo hard to bear, with its random violence and Mafia massacres, and yet they are vulnerable at Bosco, too, where poverty-ridden shepherds often erupt into bloody murders. For several years, driving between Partinico and Alcamo, she and her husband always hid their cash in her bra because of bandits working the highway. Simeti has no blind eye for the rigors of Sicilian existence, but the sense of life overflows her book like green olive oil running down the sides of a press. A bedside delight.

Pub Date: April 7th, 1986
ISBN: 0679764143
Publisher: Knopf