A voluminous family portrait has unmistakable autobiographical antecedents (Tucci's own Russo-Italian background), and although it is framed by a montage of Europe at the turn of the century, a Europe which is very much ancien style and ancien regime, it is overwhelmed by one character, a grandmother indomitable even in death. A wealthy widow, the mother of six children only two of whom still pay obeisance, she is seen moving from city to city (Paris, Naples, Rome, Baden-Baden) with her entourage, a German butler, French cook and governess. Sometimes she travels like ""gypsies"", i.e. without her servants, her silver crockery, chaise percee or the replica of her husband's tomb in Berlin. Finally she settles in Lugano, after her daughter Mary has committed the ""act of treason"" by falling in love with an Italian, a doctor from a small, impoverished village and family. This is then the story of Mary's vassalage to her mother; of the doctor's to them both and to the corruption of her money; and of Ludmilla, another daughter, more wayward and worrisome as she is summoned by her mother, driven away by the always jealous Mary. The book ends appropriately with Mamachen's death and in a final magnificent scene, she usurps Mary's identity.... Tucci's fictional memoir of a time and ""all the good things of life for which I... had suddenly become unfit"", is also filled with a tremendous Muscovite emotionalism, excitability, volubility, and it is lavish with a life given to sudden contretemps, hysterical accusations, tearful recriminations. All this passion spent and misspent gives the book its vitality although it demands both time and patience. It is a long book.