Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson is a witty memoir and a love letter to Italian food.
After college graduation, Katherine is to “do a year abroad”. Not knowing what she wants to do, she lands an internship in Naples, Italy, working at the consulate. She thought she would find her life’s career in Italy, something she was passionate about. Instead she found family and love, and the ability to see food differently than she ever had before.
Only in Naples is a warm, hearty story. Unlike many memoirs, which read like a pre-packaged snack or bowl full of devourable popcorn, this is a bubbling pan of lasagne straight from the oven – a lasagne of which you are going to want seconds.
My Favorite Quotes from Only in Naples:
(read on Kindle, sorry no page numbers!)
“I now know that Naples is like New York City: you either love it or you hate it.”
“The kitchen was for cooking and eating in famiglia. You can scooch around and bump into family, after all. Lean over them, step on them, feed and be fed by them. A lot of space isn’t really necessary when you’re with people you love.”
“The English word ‘carnal’ is derogatory and has sexual connotations, but in Italian ‘carnage’ is precious and sacred.”
“I should have realized by then that in Italy, and particularly in Naples, anything is possible. Magic happens. The chaos and noise and colors give way suddenly, unexpectedly, to solemnity. How? The answer is always in the food.”
“This is all to say that the day after Easter should be a holiday everywhere for Christians, like it is in Naples. A day to let it sink in: the chocolate, the music, the impossible fact that He died for me and rose again… give us a moment to digest it all and figure out how we’re going to live our lives.”
“The important think is how you behave with the people who really matter.”
Should you read Only in Naples? If you like creative non-ficition or memoir, if you love reading about how food can comfort and hurt, and if you love a good story about cultural differences and learning to love someone whose family is very different from yours, then yes!
As someone who knows just enough Spanish and French to be dangerous, but not even a little Italian, sometimes the Italian phrases sprinkled throughout the book were a bit distracting. Otherwise, this was a lovely, heartfelt story about what it’s like to see another culture and become part of someone else’s family.
P.S. If you like this, I recommend Shauna Niequist’s Bread & Wine for another memoir that looks at the the ways in which life and food are forever intertwined.
I’d not heard a whit about this book before a friend gave me an extra ARC she had laying around. Since then, I’ve seen it pop up everywhere around the internet! I finally got a chance to read it and can see what the fuss is about.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal is a book for the current foodie culture. I’ve never read a novel or a blog that so embodies the very way modern culture looks at and enjoys food.
The story loosely follows a young woman named Eva as she grows up and becomes an exquisite chef, but Stradal tells the story through the eyes of the people around her. Someone new narrates each chapter, almost as if the characters are passing a baton from one to the next. The first chapter is her father, followed by a single chapter narrated from Eva’s point of view, and then followed by one of her cousin’s and so-on. It was fascinating to trace this young woman’s life from afar until the novel comes full circle, and each new chapter is a chance to get to know someone new – and not all of the narrators are likable.
“Theirs was mixed-race marriage – between a Norwegian and a Dane – and thus all things culturally important to one but not the other were given a free pass and critiqued only in unmixed company.” – p. 2
“‘Your ancestors ate this to survive long winters.’
‘And how did they survive lutefisk?’ Lars asked once.” – p. 3
“She was beautiful, and not like a state or a perfume advertisement, but in a realistic way, like how a truck or a pizza is beautiful at the moment you want it most.” – p. 4
“When Lars first held [his daughter], his heart melted over her like butter on warm bread, and he would never get it back.” – p. 7
“… how someone could give that up in the amount of time it takes to seal an envelope, with the same saliva once used to seal a marriage.” – p. 30
“In those moment, her body felt the like world’s smallest prison.” – p. 38
“That’s a life in the dirt, a life touching dirt, a life touching things that touch dirt.” – p. 60
“Braque was, by careful design, nothing like her mom.” – p. 66
“… her smile scattered every other thought in his mind.” – p. 106
“…she was a one-woman plague of sincerity.” – p. 149
“…she hadn’t grown into being a woman, she had become a woman with an exclamation mark.” – p. 173
“In the Fellowship Hall, a skinny woman in an impertinent white summer dress – no sleeves, low neck, and cut above the knee – there an ivory cotton tablecloth over a folding table.” – p. 213
“Maybe in Florida they sang hymns in their bikinis, but that wouldn’t fly up here.” – p. 214
“Pat assumed they weren’t very trusting people.” – p. 242
“She had decades of luxury travel… it didn’t matter how expensive or opulent the room was, checkout was still always at eleven, and when she walked out the hotel doors, she was still herself…” – p. 285
What made this a good story?
I had never read a book like this where the narration rotates from one person to another in a progressive fashion. That was a fascinating dynamic. I also liked how the novel traced the foodie movement from the tradition of Minnesota lutefisk to the new wave of gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free concoctions that people try to pass off as dessert. I’m with character Pat Prager on this – “everyone likes bars” – even if only in secret.
What could have made it a better story?
The ending was a little ambiguous. Call me traditional, but I kind of like my happy-ever-afters and my clear-cut finales. I was also disappointed that after her own narration chapter at age 11, we never get to hear from Eva again – and I wanted to. Her’s was a story that I would always read more about, always want to know more. Some books allow you to close the last page and move on, but Eva’s book captivated me. I would read a sequel or a companion novel about her in a heartbeat.
What about you? Have you ever read Kitchens of the Great Midwest? What did you think?