That Summer in Sicily, by Marlena de Blasi

The American author Marlena de Blasi has written three good memoirs about living in Italy.

Her latest book, That Summer in Sicily: A Love Story, is called a memoir, but is more of a novel about a family in a remote village in the mountains of Sicily.

Marlena de Blasi is on a book tour in the US for her latest book and stopped at Borders in Santa Fe last Sunday. Steve and I, and our friend Joan, went to see her. While I love reading her books, I always wondered what I would think of her if I ever got to meet her. Photos show her with dramatic makeup and her descriptions of herself in her books talk about her extravagant way of dressing (and all those velvet throw pillows in her house!!). I am more of a “no makeup and old blue jeans” kind of gal.

Well, I loved her! She was magnificent, captivating, enchanting. Yes, there was a lot of makeup, but she looked fabulous. Red lipstick, dark eye liner, dramatic black hair, beautiful russet jacket, big jewelry. She speaks with the most wonderful quiet, almost whispering, voice. She clearly has great passion for her life, her husband and her writing.

The crowd was disappointingly small – maybe a dozen people, mostly women – it had not been advertised well. I only knew about it because Joan saw it listed in the weekend paper. One woman asked me at the end if I had read any of de Blasi’s books. “All of them!” I said. She had been in the cafe next to the reading area and heard de Blasi’s charming voice, so came to the reading. She was in line to get “A Thousand Days in Venice” signed.

De Blasi started by talking to the group, asking if there were questions. The only question was “where is Fernando”. Turned out he was the charming, quiet man in the back row.  He stood and said hello to the group. Then she talked about how she came to write the book. She was given an assignment by a prestigious magazine to write about the people in Sicily, not on the popular coastal areas, but inland, in the mountains. She knew many other writers had turned down the assignment, knowing how difficult it would be to get these Sicilians to give them the information they needed. She took the job, but failed to get the information she needed for the article.

Instead, she and Fernando went to a remote village, met an interesting woman who was from the town and formed “a harmonious society composed of many of the women – now widowed – who once worked the prince’s land alongside their husbands”. I copied that description from the book jacket because I have not read the book yet. She talked about going into the village and seeing a group of women washing their clothes by hand in the fountain. She and Fernando were looking for a hotel they had been told was there, but they could not find it. She asked the women. The women looked at them but would not answer. She asked again. No answer. Fernando asked. Nothing. As they were leaving she looked back and on of them nodded towards a nearby hilltop.

De Blasi said she would love to have joined the women to wash her shirt in the fountain – she immediately felt a kinship with the group. She talked about the simple way people live in these remote villages, so different from how we live now in modern areas.

Marlena and Fernando spent a month in the remote village, learning the story of these women, and then she wrote the book based on the story. She has not revealed the location of the village and you will not be able to identify the people from her novel. They do not want to be found. She said the photo on the cover won’t give it away. “That is a photo from England or somewhere” she said.

De Blasi said this book is a novel, but her publisher has it listed as a memoir since her other books are memoirs. I asked her how it was different writing someone else’s story and she said it was the same – that it was her voice in the book. She said that in the other books, even though they are memoirs, there are characters that she develops and writes for, so it is not so different with this one.

Joan asked her what she is working on now. She is now writing a novel, and it will be called a novel, set in Prague and another country (I can’t remember).

I spoke with her for a few minutes while getting my booked signed. They still live in Orvieto. I told her we knew the area where “A Thousand Days in Tuscany” was set because we had spent two weeks in Celle sul Rigo one year and two weeks in Cetona another year. She asked me if I remembered the man who ran the alimentari (grocery shop) in Celle sul Rigo. I did – he is strikingly handsome. And she told us they have dinner in Cetona regularly (at the same restaurant that we went to several times).

I searched for some online interviews with de Blasi and could not find any. If you find any, please post in the comments. I did find this essay she wrote on her publishers site: A Lover’s Guide to Venice.

I am looking forward to reading this new book!

Published by

Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

12 thoughts on “That Summer in Sicily, by Marlena de Blasi”

  1. Thanks Annie! That is a great interview with her! If you find the other one, please post the link. I could not find much about her when I was searching.

  2. Hi Pauline,

    How wonderful that you got to meet Marlena. I would have loved to have been there! I have loved all of her books. I am in the midst of reading the new one and am really fascinated so far.

    Hope to see you again one of these days.

    Nancy

  3. Great post, Pauline! I really liked “A Thousand Days in Venice,” but wasn’t crazy about the Tuscany book. I got the feeling that she had a “big” personality, and would be hard to live with. (As much as I enjoyed reading about her life!) It sounds like you had a nice conversation with her!

  4. Pauline, I have read numerous book about traveling and living in Italy, and I have begun my own in fact. I just read a Thousand Days in Tuscany and I am mesmerized by the “soul” of the writer, of Fernando and Barlozzo. The author is very introspective and expresses her connection with the earth and the people of San Casciano dei Bagni with the same passion that she creates her culinary morsels. The writing is exquisite and makes the reader feel like a person participating within the storyline. Bravissimo!

  5. I consumed all her books; they struck such a chord with me. I had thrown caution to the winds and with five children and two large dogs, set sail for Franco’s Spain in the early 70’s where I ran a small pension on the beach where we served breakfast, a four course lunch and three course dinner each and every day to all our customers, I wrote a book about those times, but was unsuccessful at getting it published. Then, 11 years ago I left everything I loved behind….for love.
    I just got home and wrote about my trip
    The Confederate Rose.

    “The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight.
    The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention “

    From “The Artists Way” Julia Cameron.

    Getting home for me is leaving ‘home’ to come “home”

    Having been in a place where everyone around you is your child, their spouse or a grandchild, where each one wants to hug you or stroke your cheek, listen to you tell stories, to kiss you, love you and smile the word ‘Nana’ or ‘Mum’ to you.
    It is just enchanting, possibly more so because of the ephemeral nature of such trips.

    Homecomings are reflective times, a freshly corked fat green glass jar of recent memories, sometimes skewed and distorted at three in the morning by jet lag.

    I cooked fragrant soup, loving the preparation. I baked a fresh batch of bread, kneading away any residual sadness, but joy for my eyes was provided by my friends Joza and Art.
    They gave me the very first of their Confederate Rose blossoms. Plucked from the very top of the bush, I bore the blossom home and into a tiny specimen vase on my kitchen counter.
    The pure white frothy blossom with translucent petals resembled a priceless christening gown or a brides dream.
    I watched the barely perceptual change until some hours had elapsed and the blossom was now a grandchild’s pink ballet tutu.
    As the day drew to a close it finally became a deep fuchsia evening gown of spectacular design.

    Short-lived like my trip, that blossom made me pay attention and so delighted me.
    I’m home.

    Barbara
    Autumn 2008

  6. Pauline, I just found this website searching for Marlena de Blasi and tried to see about her tours at http://www.meetyouinitaly.com and the website doesn’t work. Do you have any updates on the tours or Marlena? I am planning a trip to Italy this fall 2009.
    Thank you.

  7. Just finished reading “That Summer in Sicily”. I loved it absolutely. It’s so different from anything else that I have read recently. I recommend it highly
    It is textured with characters, and description of the countryside. It is so vivid that you can see the characters, smell the food and become intoxicated by the flowers. And I was completely surprised by the ending.
    All the best to Marlena de Blasi, I shall read all of your other works.

  8. Phyllis, you will love everyone of her other works too! I have not read Sicily but really look forward to it with your recommendation. I read “1000 Days in Tuscany” first and devoured it and followed with her other books. Thanks for posting your comments. Do you tour or live in Italy? The website that Marlena supposedly arranged tours does not work. But that would be fun!

  9. Just reading That Summer in Sicily and am having a hard time getting around all the English grammar mistakes De Blasi makes and the spelling and other errors in Italian. This is certainly not first rate literature; it is inconceivable that anyone would publish a book with so many mistakes… at least a dozen so far and I am not even half way through…

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