April 30, 2011

Books: Take Me Away to Italy

Take Me Away Saturday

For those of you unfamiliar with Take Me Away Saturday: I started it because I love books that take place in different cultures and are about different cultures. Take Me Away is a way to share with other readers books that can transport them into another culture. Each week I feature a different country or culture (ex. Cherokee, Jewish, etc. that do not have a specific country per se) and list some books that can transport you there. (Note: ex. not necessarily books by a German or an Australian, but books set in Germany or Australia.) I try to provide a variety of fiction genres as well as nonfiction selections.

There is a list of both countries and cultures visited in past Take Me Away posts at the bottom of this post. Check them out and discover some good books to read and recommend some, too!

This week we are visiting the European country of Italy, the country I most want to visit:


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
Antonio, the merchant of Venice, owes a large debt to Shylock, the moneylender. Worse, Antonio faces death if he fails to repay the money. When his merchant ships are lost at sea, Antonio's wealth is lost along with them, and Shylock demands a pound of Antonio's flesh to satisfy the unpaid debt. Antonio pleads his case in a court of law, where he is brilliantly defended by Portia, the clever young wife of his dear friend Bassanio.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
The best American novel to emerge from World War I, A Farewell to Arms is the unforgettable story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front and his passion for a beautiful English nurse.


A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi
Venice is almost synonymous with romance, and in this charming account de Blasi spares no detail in telling us how she fell under its spell. A journalist, restaurant critic, and food consultant, de Blasi left her home, her grown children, and her job as a chef in St. Louis to marry Fernando, a Venetian she barely knew. In defiance of the cynics who think true love in middle age is crazy, her marriage flourished, as these two strangers made a life together. Food comforted the newlyweds when their conflicting cultures almost divided them, and in the end marital harmony reigns. Is this book a romance, a food guide, or an exhortation for us to come to Venice and experience the magic? Ultimately, it is all three, and there is even an appendix that includes recipes for dishes described in the text.

It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust by Elizabeth Bettina
Take a journey with Elizabeth Bettina as she discovers-much to her surprise-that her grandparent's small village, nestled in the heart of southern Italy, housed an internment camp for Jews during the Holocaust, and that it was far from the only one. Follow her discovery of survivors and their stories of gratitude to Italy and its people. Explore the little known details of how members of the Catholic church assisted and helped shelter Jews in Italy during World War II.

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
Berendt reads his own nonfiction exploration of the seamy side of Venice with an insider's hushed tones, chronicling the life and times of the city's movers and shakers like a naughty child sharing an overheard secret. Following up his similar study of Savannah in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Berendt has cobbled together a series of entertaining tales of the legendary canal city, ranging from the squabbles of Venetian fund-raisers to the fire in the Venice Opera House. Like a cocktail-party raconteur with a particularly juicy story to tell, Berendt twists his listeners' ears with his book's seamless stringof Venice-themed misbehavior and decadence. Only occasionally overemoting, Berendt mostly maintains the proper tone of high-society gossip delivered succinctly. Berendt's intimate voice helps to tie together the disparate strands of his sometimes-sprawling book.


The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston
Douglas Preston fulfilled a lifelong dream when he moved with his family to a villa in Florence. Upon meeting celebrated journalist Mario Spezi, Preston was stunned to learn that the olive grove next to his home had been the scene of a horrific double murder committed by one of the most infamous figures in Italian history. A serial killer who ritually murdered fourteen young lovers, he has never been caught. He is known as the Monster of Florence. Fascinated by the tale, Preston began to work with Spezi on the case. Here is the true story of their search to uncover and confront the man they believe is the Monster. In an ironic twist of fate that echoes the dark traditions of the city's bloody history, Preston and Spezi themselves became targets of a bizarre police investigation. With the gripping suspense of Preston's bestselling novels, THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE tells a remarkable and harrowing chronicle of murder, mutilation, suicide, and vengeance-with Preston and Spezi caught in the middle.


Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
Perhaps more than any other person, Marcella Hazan is responsible for bringing Italian cuisine into the homes of American cooks. We're not talking spaghetti and meatballs here--Hazan's cuisine consists of polenta, risotto, squid braised with tomatoes and white wine, sautéed swiss chard with olive oil and garlic.... Twenty years ago, when Hazan first exploded into the American consciousness with The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking, such recipes were revolutionary. With time, however, these classic dishes have become much-beloved family favorites. Now a new generation is ready to be introduced to Marcella Hazan's way with food, and in Essentials of Italian Cooking Hazan combines her two earlier works into one update and expanded volume. In addition to the delicious collection of recipes, this book serves as a basic manual for cooks of every skill level. Recipes have been revised to reduce fat content, and a whole new chapter full of fundamental information about herbs, spices, and cheeses used in Italian kitchens--as well as details on how to select specific ingredients--has been added.

One Hundred & One Beautiful Small Towns of Italy by Paolo Lazzarin
Who hasn't dreamt of being whisked away to a sweet little Italian town buried deep in the countryside-towns with names that roll off the tongue like Vercelli, Portofino, and Tuscania? The small towns sprinkled throughout this expansive book are not only rich with beauty, but are also saturated with as much historical and cultural importance as their sister cities. Originally written by and for Italians, this is a fantastic source of inside information. The 101 towns featured represent the 20 diverse regions of Italy and their varied landscapes, architecture, and local specialties. Practical sidebars introduce the reader to traditional artisans-Tuscan saddlers, custom cobblers, tapestry weavers, ceramicists, and crafters of papier-mâché-as well as to the best place to buy Parmigiano Reggiano or the greatest terrace to have tea while taking in a Tuscan sunset. And if that weren't enough to keep you busy-or you have a hard time deciding where to go first-art and architecture are also amply covered, from the history of L'Aquila's 99 fountains to the most elaborate of Baroque churches and the most charming of piazzas.

History of Italian Renaissance Art by Frederick Hartt
This book focuses on works of art, their creators, and the circumstances affecting their creation. This revision is designed to provide readers with a more streamlined approach to understanding Italian Renaissance art without losing the enthusiasm and appreciation that Hartt demonstrated for this area and which earlier editions of this book conveyed so successfully. Italy and Italian Art; Duecento Art in Tuscany and Rome; Florentine Art of the Early Trecento; Sienese Art of the Early Trecento; Later Gothic Art in Tuscany and Northern Italy; The Beginnings of Renaissance Architecture; Gothic and Renaissance in Tuscan Sculpture; Gothic and Renaissance in Florentine Painting; The Heritage of Masaccio and the Second Renaissance Style; The Second Renaissance Style in Architecture and Sculpture; Absolute and Perfect Painting: The Second Renaissance Style; Crisis and Crosscurrents; Science, Poetry, and Prose; The Renaissance in Central Italy; Gothic and Renaissance in Venice and Northern Italy; The High Renaissance in Florence; The High Renaissance in Rome; High Renaissance and Mannerism; High and Late Renaissance in Venice and on the Mainland; Michelangelo and the Maniera.


The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis
Against the backdrop of 15th-century Italian internecine feuds, debauchery and Vatican corruption, Kalogridis's latest historical novel (after The Burning Times) chronicles with compelling sweep the story of the ravishing and iron-willed Sancha de Aragon, princess of Naples. Illegitimate daughter to the coldhearted duke of Calabria (briefly king of Naples), she is used to establish ties to the feared and influential House of Borgia when her father betroths her to the younger scion, Jofre. Much to the dismay of her beloved younger brother Alfonso, Sancha is sent from Naples to rule with Prince Jofre in remote Squillace. War with the French will later briefly return her to Naples, but rumors of her beauty reach her lecherous father-in-law, Pope Alexander VI, who recalls her and Jofre to opulent Rome. There, she avoids the pope's advances-and her jealous sister-in-law Lucrezia's animosity-but falls into a steamy affair with her brother-in-law, the dashing Cesare, cardinal of Valencia. Cesare becomes furious when she refuses to leave Jofre, and he sets out on a warpath that includes her brother Alfonso, who has also married into the Borgia clan-to Lucrezia. Kalogridis spins a dramatic tale from a heady mix of royal power plays and passion.

The Broker by John Grisham
Readers will find an amiable travelogue to Italy and its charms in Grisham's latest. What they won't find are the suspense and inspired plotting that have made the author (The Last Juror, etc.) one of the world's bestselling writers. Yet Grisham remains a smooth storyteller, and few will fail to finish this oddball tale of what happens to ruined D.C. powerbroker Joel Blackman, 52, when he's suddenly released from federal prison after six years. Teddy Maynard, legendary CIA director, has engineered the release in order to put Joel into a variant of the witness protection program and then see who kills him. Many want him dead—the Saudis, the Israelis, especially the Chinese—because of his role in trying to sell a global satellite spy system that would alter the world's balance of power; that was what got Joel imprisoned, and the CIA hopes that whoever kills him will clue them in to who may have access to the satellites. Joel is relocated to Bologna, and much of the narrative consists of his touring that city, its historic sights and its many restaurants, and learning Italian ways from his male handler, Luigi, and his language tutor, Francesca—a middle-aged woman with whom he falls in love. A major subplot concerns Joel's secret dealings with his stateside son to prepare for escape from Bologna if necessary. Eventually, the CIA leaks Joel's whereabouts to his enemies, who dispatch killing teams. Can Joel broker his way to safety?

The Scarlet Contessa by Jeanne Kalogridis
Daughter of the Duke of Milan and wife of the conniving Count Girolamo Riario, Caterina Sforza was the bravest warrior Renaissance Italy ever knew. She ruled her own lands, fought her own battles, and openly took lovers whenever she pleased. Her remarkable tale is told by her lady-in-waiting, Dea, a woman knowledgeable in reading the “triumph cards,” the predecessor of modern-day Tarot. As Dea tries to unravel the truth about her husband’s murder, Caterina single-handedly holds off invaders who would steal her title and lands. However, Dea’s reading of the cards reveals that Caterina cannot withstand a third and final invader—none other than Cesare Borgia, son of the corrupt Pope Alexander VI, who has an old score to settle with Caterina. Trapped inside the Fortress at Ravaldino as Borgia’s cannons pound the walls, Dea reviews Caterina’s scandalous past and struggles to understand their joint destiny, while Caterina valiantly tries to fight off Borgia’s unconquerable army.


The Smile by Donna Jo Napoli
The identity of the woman the world calls Mona Lisa has ignited speculation since Leonardo da Vinci created her portrait and left it untitled, unsigned, and undated. In this richly embroidered romance set in Renaissance Florence, Napoli imagines the young life of the woman behind the famous smile. Thirteen-year-old Elisabetta, the daughter of a wealthy silk merchant, is starting to think of marriage when Leonardo da Vinci, a family friend, introduces her to young heir Giuliano de’ Medici. The teenagers share an instant attraction that deepens into friendship and, finally, love. Political turmoil that escalates into war threatens the young romance, though, and Elisabetta is caught between her passionate attachment to Giuliano and her dutiful obligations to her family. Napoli skillfully draws readers into the vibrant settings, from opulent Florentine palaces to rustic hillside villas, with tangible, sensory details that enliven the novel’s intriguing references to history and art. Elisabetta’s strength and individuality, as she grows into marriage and motherhood, will captivate readers, as will her wonderment over love’s complexity.

The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper
Kate Sanderson has been burned by love. From now on, she thinks, I will control my own destiny, and I will be reasoned and rational. But life has other things in store for Kate. Namely, a summer abroad studying Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in the very town where the star-crossed lovers met, Verona, Italy. Kate is thrown together with two other American teens and three Italians for a special seminar—and for volunteer duty at the Juliet Club, where they answer letters from the lovelorn around the world. Can Kate's cool logic withstand the most romantic summer ever? Especially when faced with the ever-so-charming Giacomo and his entrancing eyes . . . ?


Maya's World: Angelina of Italy by Maya Angelou

ANGELINA LOVES PIZZA. So much so that when she hears that there is a Leaning Tower of Pisa, and mistakenly thinks it’s made of pizzas, she is so distressed that she must go see it for herself! "Let me tell you about my friend Angelina," writes Angelou at the start of this minimal, clich d story, one of four launching the Maya's World paperback series starring children from various countries. Angelina, who lives in Italy, is so enamored of pizza that her older sister calls her "Patty Pizza." When one night at dinner her uncle tells the story of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the girl envisions "a tower made of delicious, saucy pizza pies rising as tall as the church steeple down the street" and is chagrined to think that, if it fell over, "no one would ever have a chance to eat it! Especially her!" When she fails to believe her mother's assertion that the tower is not made of pizza ("Don't worry, darlinghissima," she tells Angelina), the family drives to Pisa. There with "big tears rolling down [her] cheeks" Angelina dashes past a guard and under the ropes to get a closer look at the structure. With relief, she discovers, "There wasn't a piece of pepperoni or drippy mozzarella in sight!" In the tale's predictably contrived ending, Angelina earns "a great big pizza pie with everything!" Though cheerful, Rockwell's spare illustrations are as one-dimensional as the narrative. Unfortunately, neither will satiate the appetites of youngsters hungry for information about a child from another culture. Ages 4-8.

Priceless Gifts: A Tale from Italy by Martha Hamilton, Mitch Weiss, and John Kanzler
Antonio the merchant sails from Genoa, Italy, to the Spice Islands, where he exchanges leather goods and cloth for cinnamon and cloves. He is astonished, however, at the king's banquet, to see that the rats must be kept away by being beaten with sticks. He presents the king with a pair of cats that dispatch the rodents, and the delighted ruler rewards him with many jewels. Back in Genoa, Antonio's rival, Luigi, sets sail, longing to obtain the same kind of response from the king of the Spice Islands. Children will easily absorb the lessons about greed, appreciation, and the uses of cats, although the message tends to outweigh the story. The illustrations, with trappings of the Italian Renaissance and Eastern exotica, are waggish and full of colorful fairy-tale effects. Ages: 4-8.

Marco Polo Was Here! A Kid's Guide to Venice, Italy by Penelope Dyan and John D. Weigand
If you want to experience that perfect day, whether you are young or old, Venice, Italy is the place to be. The people of Venice, Italy are warm, cosmopolitan, honest, artistic, and full of music and fun. This is why Penelope Dyan and John D. Weigand traveled to Venice, Italy to write and photograph ‘Marco Polo Was Here!’ This is another book to add to your collection of Weigand’s and Dyan’s travel guides for kids; and it is clear they know what they are doing, and they know what kids like. Ages 9-12.

This is, of course, just a sampling of books on Italy for you to try. Do you want to recommend/share books that take place in Italy? Or do you want to share other thoughts? Please leave a note in the comments!

Be sure to check back for another trip in books!

Here is what is coming up next:
Asian country of Bangladesh
African country of South Africa

Where we've been and the books that take us there:
The Americas and the Caribbean
Triple Threat-Baltic States
Middle East
Sierra Leone
Australia, Pacific Islands
New Zealand
Cultures Across the World
Australian Aborigines
Sioux Nation
Inuit Culture
Amish Culture


  1. Italy! Who doesn't love books set there? :)

  2. I saw the photo of Florence - I want to go back there! I also want to visit Venice - think that's a trip for our 21st 'Anniversary' (in 2013)

    I read The Merchant of Venice for the first time last year - a thought-provoking play.

    I have one book set in Florence on my TBR shelf (bought it in Galileo Galilei airport in Pisa) - The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant. I also have Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon (set in Venice)

  3. Merchant of Venice is one of my favourite Shakespearean plays (trumped by Macbeth). I did read The Broker, but can barely remember it. Farewell to Arms is on my wishlist, so hopefully, in good time.....

    I'd add Primo Levi to the list. Have If Not Now, When on my shelf at the moment, and am really looking forward to reading that.

  4. Love books about Italy, thanks for the recommendations!

    In turn I would like to recommend Jamie Oliver's Italy for the stunning pictures and The Silverspoon cookbook for the amazing recipes!

  5. Heidenkind- I know it is one of my favorites! And not only because I want to visit there more than I want to visit anywhere else!

    Tracy- Oh I *envy* that you have been to Florence. Florence and Tuscany are where I want to go. I hope you do get to go back there! You've reminded me that I have The Birth of Venus around here somewhere. Must find it.

    anothercookiecrumbles- You can never go wrong with Merchant of Venice or Hemingway either.

    Willa- You are welcome! And thanks for the recommendation for Oliver. I have heard great things about his show but have not really watched it.

  6. I'm taking note of this list! Italy has always been one of the countries I wanted to visit, but since I took an Italian class last year I've been even more eager to discover it!

  7. The Secret Life of Grazia dei Rossi (historical fiction)
    Falling Down Palace (travel memoir set in Naples)
    Tim Parks's books (he's English, but has lived in Italy for years and has interesting observations about life in Italy and cultural differences)
    Vroom with a View (traveling through Italy on a Vespa)


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