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Book Reviews

Summers in Supino: Becoming Italian

by Maria Coletta McLean

It is impossible to approach a book entitled Summers in Supino: Becoming Italian without wary anticipation of the cloying pastoral scenes found in the likes of a Frances Mayes novel. Thankfully, the follow-up to Maria Coletta McLean’s earlier memoir, My Father Came From Italy, is not that. While it does rely on depictions of Supino and its people, they act more as a background for something much deeper.

McLean’s portrayal of summertime visits to her father’s hometown is shadowed by his death and, later, her husband Bob’s battle with cancer. While the intimate, lyrical style immediately draws the reader in, there is an undercurrent of apathy running through the dialogue in the first half that renders the narrative somewhat bland. The book is injected with a shot of energy, however, when McLean learns of her husband’s illness, at which point the story takes on a sense of immediacy and vigour.

Tonally, the book jumps from pessimism to lightness and humour, then to passion and grief; as a result, the telling is at times jarring and incomplete. Yet this approach works in keeping the account from becoming something overly stylized or dreamy: there is no embellishing of memory for the sake of tidiness. Everything that is real in life – moments of joy, days of hopelessness, seconds of peace, instances of absolute frustration – exists in this book, each melding into the other with no prescribed order. 

The author’s complaints about nosy neighbours, the construction of a still-incomplete patio, and the tiresome frequency of village festivals are contrasted with loving accounts of life in Supino seen through Bob’s obvious enthusiasm and affection for his adopted Italian home. This clash in perspectives can make for a certain disconnect, and at times the reader is prompted to ask whether the author even likes Supino.

But McLean makes clear the answer when she brings her narrative full circle and underlines how the village and the life she and her husband have built there are the only constants that remain, always present to welcome her back with a warm – if maddening – embrace.