Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy

Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Author
Wallis Wilde-Menozzi, Author North Point Press $25 (384p) ISBN 978-0-86547-501-4
Reviewed on: 10/01/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-86547-670-7
Ebook - 384 pages - 978-1-4668-4445-2
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Wilde-Menozzi has lived in Parma, a prosperous, somewhat conservative city in northern Italy, for 14 years, but this memoir of life abroad is blessedly less indebted to Peter Mayles than most, as she delves deeply into both the negative and the positive aspects of Italy's close-knit families and devotion to tradition. Wilde-Menozzi weaves some research about local historical figures such as Parmigianino through the story of her attempt to integrate into--or at least comprehend--Italian culture, but it is her own homegrown icons that resonate. Among the few possessions she brought to Italy was a family quilt that she displays like a work of art, prompting her mother-in-law to comment, ""A bedspread on the wall, you know, doesn't reflect well on a full professor."" She returns often to the image of the micca, the traditional bread of Parma, ""a solid, saltless, fairly moist roll in a double squarish shape of Romanesque power (a lap's two rounded thighs),"" and reveals that because of the ""high paranoiac walls around food,"" her daughter may eat at her friends' homes but ""her friends never crossed the frontier of our food."" Her observations about Italian families are particularly perceptive and lead to a rumination on the lack of personal space. Wilde-Menozzi's writing is original and often poetic and moving, but some sections here are unbearably overwritten, and her device of returning to the same ideas and images can feel forced. Still, there are numerous areas of insight that make the rough patches worthwhile. (June)
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