cover image A Tuscan Childhood

A Tuscan Childhood

Antony Beevor, Kinta Beevor. Pantheon Books, $24 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40462-7

Beevor, who died in 1995, recalls her childhood spent in Tuscany with bohemian British parents in this precious yet strangely distant memoir. Beevor has many interesting tales to tell: her parents, an artist and a writer, moved into a castle in the remote countryside of Aulla in 1905; then, in 1927, they inherited from her mother's aunt a villa just outside of Florence in Fiesole, a locale they had visited often. There is considerable charm in her stories of eating in the castle's rooftop garden and roaming through a rustic market where vendors sold wooden clogs and terra cotta pots. Her recollections of the local folk are sweet even if they reflect the sentiments of the foreign elite. ""Finding servants was not easy,"" Beevor writes, although their castle was situated in an impoverished area. As well, her British family often found the informal attitudes of their Italian employees laughable. She delights in relating local traditions, however, such as the use of fennel to cure colic and the consumption of garlic to repel mosquitoes. When the family moved to its inherited villa in Fiesole, they began to associate with a larger circle of expatriates living there, including Bernard Berenson. Naturally, the war caused big problems for both the British residents and the peasants (who Beevor claims saw the danger of Mussolini when others were blind to it). Over all, Beevor's skewed perceptions cause a few problems: for starters, she places the painting-over of an 18th-century fresco of a poodle on the same level as the war-time destruction of the town of Aulla. Agent, Robin Straus. (Apr.)