Friday, 22 November 2013

Review: At Least You're in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell

At Least You're in Tuscany
Jennifer Criswell
Gemelli Press

'Living a dream is very different from having a dream'

I've never been the biggest reading of travel books/memoirs but I could not even try to resist reading this. Tuscany is one of my favourite places in the world and I will never stop revisiting its rolling hills and beautiful hilltop towns and cities. I have some wonderful memories of Tuscany from trips there with my family and with my bestie when we went travelling. Siena, particularly, has a ridiculously special place in the old heart*. 

At Least You're in Tuscany tracks the ups and downs (of which there are a considerable number) of the author, an American who ups sticks and decides to make her home in Montepulciano, Italy. It follows the first months of Criswell's life in Italy and the obstacles that she inevitably faces, as well as a few not so inevitable ones. All the while, Criswell repeats her personal mantra: 'at least you're in Tuscany'.

I love how candidly this book is written. Criswell doesn't romanticise her experiences, instead choosing to tell us the difficulties she faced in regards to jobs, friendship and romance. Her honesty also makes the book funny - not that we are laughing at her, but she is recounting the less glamorous side of becoming an expat in a way that makes us laugh along with her, very fondly. There is an incident in the winter with some washing that definitely made a chuckle or two escape from my lips and a few other incidents involving food and some veggie innuendo.

'I resisted the urge to find the manager and show him, since I was now a grown up of thirty-nine years.'

It was really interesting learning about Italian culture through the eyes of someone who is outside of it but also slightly within it. Criswell has a great perspective and it felt like I was learning the secrets of Italian life as she did. That, and the Italian language. I think I may have even picked up a few extra words to add to my hardly expansive knowledge of the language. entertaining and educational? What could be better than that?

Mostly I just think Criswell is heck of a brave. I mean really, how many 30-somethings would just take themselves half way around the world and move to a new country, with a completely different culture and a new language? Mental. It was so nice to be inspired by her positivity and coraggio (courage) and her ability to just do it, take the plunge and make a change. I think with an attitude to life like that, I will read anything that she comes out with.

My favourite thing about the book is the appearances of Criswell's dog, Cinder, a gorgeous Weimaraner. Cinder is almost a second main character (so to speak) and I was just as interested in how she coped with the move as how Criswell coped (well, it seemed, particularly when there was Italian ham to be had). 

This memoir doesn't finish with a fairytale ending with Criswell happily married to a wealthy Italian, friends all around her and the perfect job. It ends with reality - things are on the up but we still know that she has a way to go to truly 'make it' in Italy. I love that it isn't all hunky dory from the word go and that it isn't all hunky dory at the end. It is real life and reading about real life is far more interesting than anything else.

For an honest, exuberant and unexpectedly moving and inspiring memoir about one of the most beautiful places in the world, I would highly recommend At Least You're in Tuscany. It just made me want to sit back and relax with a glass of red in one hand and a bowl of pasta in the other and a tasty tiramisu calling me from the fridge. Love Italy? Read this. Enough said, really.

'"Chi la dura, la vince." He who endures, wins.'

* I visited Siena as one of my final stops in the tour around Italy I took when I was 20. As a home bird, I grew increasingly tense the longer I stayed away. I loved it, don't get me wrong, but I'm a short term traveller. Anyway, I spent the best couple of days in Siena, sitting in the Piazza del Campo with my book just watching the world go by. Since then I have wanted to go back to that chilled out, beautiful city, which made me feel calm and content even when I was a stressed out mess. 

Thank you to the publisher (via NetGalley) for providing this review copy.


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