Review: At Least You’re In Tuscany

Let me tell you a story about my mother. We’ve always had a very fragile relationship due to my headstrong attitude as a teen coupled with her conversion as a born-again Christian when I was fourteen. Turbulent teenage years do not mix well with someone who thinks that you are a bad person who is on a slippery slope straight to hell. In any event, my sisters all won gold stars for being good little churchgoers and I took my black marks and ostracism and the time my mom called her pastor to come and exorcise me (true story) to my sullen little teenage heart, living for the day when I could finally leave – which I did two weeks after graduation, giving up all dreams of university. It was the first time I ever saw my Dad cry.

But I’m not bitter. :)

Anyway, back to my review, which should be about the book and not about me. A year or so before my mother died of ALS I came home to visit, and she had a movie that she wanted both of us to watch. That movie was Under the Tuscan Sun, loosely adapted from the memoir by Frances Mayes. If you haven’t seen it, it is the story of a middle-aged woman who makes an unexpected purchase of a Tuscan villa during a holiday in Italy, and her misadventures in adapting to her new life. It’s uplifting and very romanticised, as one would expect, and I was quite touched that my mother (the woman who actually thought I’d been possessed by demons) thought that it related to my life in England.

Under the Tuscan Sun was about a rich writer affluent enough to decide on a mad whim to move to Tuscany. I, on the other hand, moved to England with the husband whom I’d met and fallen in love with in the States. We managed to buy a terraced house in the North (or Midlands) area of the UK. We scrimp and save and turn off lights. We did all of our house improvements (such as they are) ourselves. It is cold, drafty and an elderly lady was beaten to death in her home by children just up the street from us. It isn’t Shameless, but it sure as hell isn’t Tuscany.

I was very touched that she thought it was though, and watching that movie together made me feel much closer to her.

At Least You’re In Tuscany is a very different book. It is the story of following your dreams, taking a chance, and what happens when you are not a rich writer with tons of cash, friends and resources. It is about the difference between your dreams and the actual reality of moving halfway across the world without a safety net. In the end the author is successful, and we cheer her on through the entire book. She isn’t immediately welcomed into the hearts and homes of the quaint and quirky stereotypes that populate the other book; she does make some friends, but it takes a long time and she realises that she’ll never be totally accepted as one of them. The section about her very lonely, hungry Christmas spent with her elderly dog is very touching, and if you’ve ever tried to retain a shred of hope when sitting down there at cold rock bottom you’ll be able to relate.

And always, her motto for herself when things get darkest and misfortune strikes, is “At least you’re in Tuscany.” No matter how bad things are, how poor she is, and how infuriating Italian bureaucratic red tape turns out to be…at least she is finally there.

Running through the novel is an intense love of an adopted country, a passionate desire to belong to a place very foreign to you – which is something that I can somewhat relate to. Granted, moving to England is much less of a shock than moving to Italy, but I’ve still felt the wonder of actually being here and also the pain of missing everything and everyone back home.

At Least You’re In Tuscany is very funny, well-written, honest and worth reading. I look forward to Jennifer Criswell‘s next book.

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