MOTHER TONGUE by Wallis Wilde-Menozzi


An American Life in Italy
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 A poignant and poetic memoir of an American woman's life in Parma, Italy. In 1981, less than a year after her marriage to an Italian biology professor, Wilde-Menozzi (with her six-year-old daughter) followed her husband back to his native city of Parma. As a poet, short-story writer, and translator, Wilde-Menozzi is almost painfully conscious of the long and glorious tradition of expatriates who took root in Italy: The spirit of that great exile James Joyce seems, in particular, to pervade the book. In some ways, her work is reminiscent of the English writer Tim Parks, who settled in Verona and wrote Italian Neighbors (1992) and An Italian Education (1995) about his life there. But while Parks writes with ironic detachment, Wilde-Menozzi is passionate, sensuous, even fierce, whether dealing with the initial dilemma of relinquishing her freedom and following her husband to Italy (the words ``follow him,'' she writes, ``link me to all the Ruths that ever were'') or comparing her own ``bland and boring'' childhood with the chaotic intensity of her husband's family. Life, death, politics, language, art, books, food, and love commingle on the page. The author's sojourn in Italy becomes the catalyst for intensive soul-searching, which refracts off the page in marvelous images: She speaks of coffee reaching ``a noisy orgasm in the espresso pot.'' Discussing bread's centrality in Italian life, she celebrates it as ``a sacred gift''; whether it is ``fresh, stale, hanging on, filling bitter hunger, nourishing hopes, crusty and chewable,'' bread is ``sometimes all there is.'' Evocative and moving. (27 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-86547-501-6
Page count: 373pp
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1997