Saturday, September 12, 2009

La Cucina : A Novel of Rapture - Lily Prior

Summary: Simmering in the heat of a Sicilian kitchen, a saucy tale of sex, recipes, and murder.

Since childhood, Rosa Fiore - daughter of a sultry Sicilian matriarch and her hapless husband - found solace in her family’s kitchen. La Cucina - the heart of the family’s lush estate - was a place where generations of Fiore women prepared sumptuous feasts, and where the drama of extended family life was played out around the age-old table. When Rosa was a teenager, her own cooking became the stuff of legend in the small community that took pride in the bounty of its landscape and the eccentricity of its inhabitants. Rosa’s infatuation with culinary arts could only rival her passion for a young man, Bartollomeo, who, unfortunately, belonged to another. After their love affair ends in tragedy, Rosa retreats first into her kitchen, and then into solitude, as a librarian in Palermo. There she stays for decades, growing corpulent on her succulent dishes, resigned to a loveless life.

Then, one day, she meets the mysterious chef, known only as I’Inglese, whose research on the heritage of Sicilian cuisine leads him into Rosa’s library and her heart. They share one sublime summer of discovery, during which l’Inglese awakens the power of Rosa’s sexuality, and together they reach new heights of culinary passion. When l’Inglese suddenly vanishes, Rosa returns home to the farm to grieve for her second lost love. In the comfort of familiar surroundings, amongst her growing family, she discovers the truth about her loved ones and finds her life transformed once more by the magic of her beloved Cucina. (Summary from cover and lilyprior.com - Image from harpercollins.com)

My review: La Cucina had so much potential. It could have been truly delicious, and to be honest, at moments it really was fantastic. On the back of the book, La Cucina is described as “a saucy tale of sex, recipes, and murder”. Great, no problem. I was willing to risk a blush or two, since it was compared to one of my favorite books, “Like Water for Chocolate,” which has a few slightly steamy moments itself.

La Cucina does have a similar feel to Like Water for Chocolate but, unfortunately, with a lot less kitchen content and a lot more sexual content. What began as a sensual exploration of Sicilian cuisine and familial relationships took a decidedly sexual turn fairly early on—so much so that it became far less about the joys of cooking and more about the main character, Rosa, getting her groove on. A. Lot.

That having been said, the kitchen-centric portions were delectable, sensuous, and redolent with the flavors, scents, and descriptions of Sicilian cooking. I wanted to cook elaborate banquets and eat constantly while reading this book. Not good (or good, depending on your POV). What I expected from this book--and didn't get--was RECIPES. Didn’t it say there would be recipes (see above)?! Yup, sure did. Prior’s “recipes”, though artfully described, were so vague in measurements and instruction as to be wisps of recipes to a girl like me. Alas, I was forced to abandon my hopes for culinary plagiarism.

Despite my disappointment with the mature storyline and lack of recipes, I will concede that La Cucina was well-written. It evoked a mystical, folkloric feeling that caught me within the first few pages and continued throughout the book. The last 40 pages of this book were my favorite part, in terms of the story line. I liked how the author tied everything up while still leaving room for emotion.

In case I haven't been clear, whether you like this book or not will be almost ENTIRELY dependent on how sensitive you are to sex in literature.

My rating: 3 Stars. I would have much preferred a PG-13 version of this book—rather than the rated R one.

Sum it up: One time read-at-your-own-risk food lit.

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