Italy is not an easy place to visit with current travel restrictions. Here are three brilliant books that will transport you there, no plane ticket required.
Italy, with its art, food and romance is a dream holiday destination for many. But hey, a trip to Italy is expensive and with all the restrictions and risks associated with air travel in the midst of COVID-19. 2020 has been a particularly bad year for overseas holidays. While I can’t give you a plane ticket or make a pandemic disappear, I’d like to offer you three books that might at least make you feel as though you just spent your summer under the Italian sun. We all need a little escape from reality right now, something books are particularly good at providing, and where better to escape to than Italy?
‘The Wedding Officer’ by Anthony Capella
Advertised as a novel of culinary seduction, “The Wedding Officer” is for the foodies out there. The kind of people whose dream Italian trip would be planned entirely around meals. Set during the second world war, the novel follows James Gould, a British captain recently assigned the job of “Wedding Officer” in Naples. James is given strict instructions to discourage marriages between British soldiers stationed in the area and their beautiful Italian girlfriends.
“It was as soft as a poached egg and, when he punctured it, oozed what appeared to be ivory-colored cream. He tried some. Richness flooded his mouth. The taste was fresh, almost like chewing grass, but filling and slightly sweet.”The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capello
James, a rather tweezer-lipped, rule-abiding captain is soon faced with desperate brides, lovesick soldiers and a culture of bribery and corruption, which he promptly clamps down on. In an attempt to soften the captain, the black-market traders trick him into hiring a new cook – Livia Pertini, a young widow and food wizard. Though wary of James after her previous experience with the Allies, a romance inevitably blossoms between Livia and him, with food as the main source of seduction.
Livia is where the story comes alive. Her deep and abiding love for food, and especially the food she grew up with, is the novel’s core. Every meal Livia makes, you feel as though you’re eating it with her. The book envelops you in the tastes and smells of Naples, making up, as best it can, for the fact that you can’t be there yourself. Be prepared, this book will make you hungry!
‘The Land Where Lemons Grow’ by Helene Atlee
Named the “Food book of the Year” in 2015 by The Guild of Food Writers, “The Land Where Lemons Grow” is a piece of non-fiction that follows the history of citrus in Italy. It tracks how the fruit first arrived in the country, to all the different ways in which citrus has been grown, used, and sold since. In doing so, the book not only reveals the history of citrus but lesser-known stories about Italy’s history as a whole. Though labeled a “food book”, this is one that would appeal to hard-core travelers, just as much as the foodies.
The author of four books about Italian gardens, Atlee has traveled Italy extensively and her book often reads like a piece of travel writing. She goes from region to region, tracking the different citrus varieties that are grown in each, and the kind of people she encounters. Atlee speaks Italian and that fluency certainly translates into her writing. When reading the book, I felt as though I was being guided through Italy by an expert, picking up new words and facts as I went. I found myself noting down the places she visited and adding them to my wishlist for future Italian adventures. That was before I discovered that the book includes a helpful insert at the end about the places that are mentioned, providing perfect inspiration for future travels.
Atlee writes with a sense of warmth and welcoming, inviting citrus amateurs (such as myself) to see the complexity in something most of us have never paid a second thought to. Her interest in the fruit isn’t merely from a botanical perspective, but in how the growing of citrus has shaped the food and culture of Italy. It’s certainly an unusual angle to take but as Atlee pursues this thread, it forces her into contact with people and experiences that put her, and the reader, right at the very heart of Italy. As she trekked across the country, chatting to farmers and mobsters alike, I felt very much as if I was doing the same and for the time being, at least, the feeling of being in Italy will have to be enough.
‘Call Me by Your Name’ by André Aciman
“How wonderful, to walk half drunk with a Lemonsoda on a muggy night like this around the gleaming slate cobblestones of Rome with someone’s arm around me.”Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
Most know “Call Me by Your Name” as the wildly popular indie film that launched Timothée Chalamet’s career as an international heartthrob in 2017. Whether you’ve watched the film or not, the book is an absolute must-read. Set in Italy in the 1980s, it follows the romance that blossoms between Elio, a 17-year-old boy, and Oliver, a 24-year-old American doctoral student staying with Elio’s family for the summer.
“Call Me by Your Name” is a heady mix of young love and sexual discovery made all the more gorgeous by the novel’s Italian setting. It’s under that sun, and on adventures over the rocky coastline that Elio slowly starts to recognize that his desire to please the older student staying in his room stems from an attraction that is by no means platonic. Aciman’s writing is exquisite. He suffuses the romance of the novel’s lead characters with a romance with Italy itself – the food, the light, the late nights of wine and music. At times the characters feel as drunk on Italy as they are on each other.
This book is for the romantics. The ones dreaming of Italian love affairs and long summer nights. It draws you in and hangs on tight, not letting go until you’ve laughed, wept and underlined pages and pages of beautiful writing. The story of Elio and Oliver has quickly become a modern classic and for good reason. It is a truly transportive novel, whisking you from wherever you are and placing you squarely under the Italian sun. I don’t know about you, but right now there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Whether you’re a foodie, a romantic, or a hard-core traveler, each of these books has a ticket to your dream Italian holiday. You don’t even have to leave your couch to get there. Just curl up and get reading, no COVID-19 restrictions on this one. Let us know in the comments below which one of these books caught your attention, we’d love to know!