That Summer in Sicily

Marlena de Blasi offers a taste of old-world Sicily with this story of love among the almond blossoms.

That Summer in Sicily By Marlena de Blasi Ballantine Books 283 pp. , $24

Feeling blue because summer is nearly here and there’s almost no chance the dollar will rebound in time for that trip to Italy?

Not to worry. The good news is there’s a new Marlena de Blasi now appearing on bookstore shelves, just in time for that trip to the New Jersey shore or Wisconsin Dells.

De Blasi’s first book, “A Thousand Days in Venice” won an enthusiastic readership, enchanted by her true tale of leaving St. Louis for Venice and an Italian bank manager. She followed that up with “A Thousand Days in Tuscany,” and then “The Lady in the Palazzo,” further accounts of her life with Fernando (the one-time banker, now her husband) in different regions of Italy.

All these books are steeped in the sights, smells, and tastes of Italy. De Blasi, a chef and food consultant, plays on reader sensibilities with the seductive powers of a tangy ragu.

This time, however, she is in the mountainous interior of Sicily, pushing through “Stone Age tangles of myrtle and broom and wild marjoram and wild thyme,” surrounded by “the foul whispering of the scirocco.”

That Summer in Sicily is the story-within-a-story of a writer who, in an 18th-century Anjou castle, meets a woman with a tale to tell. Tosca is a gorgeous, green-eyed, former peasant girl who became the ward of a prince and – eventually – a brilliant, accomplished woman with an interest in (yes, really) agrarian reform. She also becomes the lover of the married prince but in this romance few bodices are ripped. Tosca and her prince, Leo, seem more deeply invested in their desire to make the world – or Sicily, at least – a better place.

Lampedusa tossed with “Cinema Paradiso” and served on a frothy bed of orange blossoms and pecorino cheese – that would be the flavor of “That Summer in Sicily.” Don’t go seeking any gritty social realism in its pages but if you crave a taste of old-world Europe to get you through the summer, this may just do the trick.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.

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