In this delightful, moving debut novel, Peter Pezzelli brings to life the earthy sensuality of Tuscany - the smell of just-baked bread wafting through the village piazza; the shopkeepers sweeping the sidewalks under the warm, early morning sun; groups of cyclists dotting the mountain roadsand spins a story of May-December romance as sharp and delicious as the olives of Villa San Giuseppe...
After the death of his beloved wife, Anna, Peppi's family and friends expect him to bury his grief by tending to his gardens and taking long rides on his bike. Instead, Peppi shocks them all with his decision to return to Villa San Giuseppe, the small Italian village where he spent his childhood, and to il mulino, his family's old mill. But once he's back, he temporarily moves into an apartment over the candy factory run by his childhood best friend, Luca. It is modest, but livable, with a lovely view of Luca's neglected gardens and his equally neglected daughter, the fiery Lucrezia.
More a force of nature than a woman, Lucrezia's legendary temper and workaholic schedule hide the very real pain she feels over her husband's death years before. At first, she tolerates Peppi as an eccentric annoyanceher father's strange but handsome American friend who fixes things around the factory and is bringing the gardens back to life. But soon, Lucrezia's interest in Peppi deepens. Like a high wind, the gossip is flying through Villa San Giuseppe. Lucrezia's making it to dinner on time. She's eating olives from a man's hand. She's wearing heels. Now, under the warm Tuscan sun, a tentative romance begins to bloom between the grieving pair, yielding to a surprisingly strong passion with the power to heal life's wounds and promise second chances…
This is a sweet little story of Peppi, an older, recently widowed man. He returns to the small Italian village that he was raised in, presumably to live out the last of his days. He is surprised to find that despite feeling like his life ended when his wife passed away, that life isn’t quite through with him yet. He reunites with his childhood friend Luca, who gives him a place to stay when he makes the devastating discovery that his childhood home has been destroyed in an earthquake. Slowly Peppi begins to rediscover the joys of life: his gardening, taking long rides on his bicycle, sharing a meal and conversation with a friend he thought he would never see again. He keeps himself busy doing small repairs around his friend’s candy factory, and it is there that he meets Luca’s daughter Lucrezia.
Lucrezia’s husband passed on some ten years before, in a terrible car crash. Ever since then she has thrown herself into her work running the factory with a vengeance. The workers live in fear of her temper, but her talents cannot be denied. In the beginning her interactions with Peppi are only just barely friendly, but she finds herself warming up to him very much against her will. She still mourns her husband, as Peppi still mourns his wife. His grief may be fresher, but her’s has sunk into her so deep that any feeling she might develop for another man is instantly smothered. Maybe it was because of the fact that Peppi was her father’s childhood friend that Lucrezia allowed herself to relax enough to care; I don’t know. When they are shanghaied into attending a wedding together Lucrezia obviously feels something for him that she is not comfortable with, as does Peppi. They both avoid each other for a time afterwards.
Peppi’s “dark night of the soul” comes and goes, and so he comes to terms with his wife’s death. Lucrezia realizes that she wants to live more than she wants to die when she is forced to face her own mortality. The tension between Lucrezia and Peppi comes to a head one dark afternoon, in the face of a violent rainstorm. That being said, neither one of these characters “chased” each other. The affection between them was something organic; it grew slowly, like the tomatoes he planted out behind the remnants of his family home. It ends happily - the book may have began at a funeral, but it ended with a baptism. Life is a circle, after all, and it keeps rolling onwards, no matter what happens.
Home to Italy was something of a “comfort food” read for me. This week I had a death in my family, so I was walking around feeling like a bag of skin stuffed with right angles and jagged edges. I wasn’t feeling up to my usual fare (although Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects is calling to me from the bookshelf) and I reached for this book, mostly attracted to the cover and the setting. The writing makes it easy to picture the little village, and the roads that Peppi traveled on his beloved bicycle, and that gentle light that this region of Italy is so famous for. I could almost feel the sunlight radiating through the pages as I read, and it was exactly what I needed.
Till next time.