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That Summer in Sicily: A Love Story    by Marlena de Blasi order for
That Summer in Sicily
by Marlena de Blasi
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2008 (2008)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

With successes like A Thousand Days in Venice and A Thousand Days in Tuscany, Marlena De Blasi seems to have cornered the market in Italian travel literature with a romantic theme. Now she brings us That Summer in Sicily, 'A Love Story' that unfolds gradually via flashbacks in time, interspersed with enticing descriptions of mountain settings and mouthwatering presentations of Sicilian feasts.

The summer of 1995, traveling with her husband Fernando, and hoping to write a piece on the interior high mountain fastness of Sicily, the author comes upon what looks like a castle, Villa Donnafugata ('house of the fleeing woman'), with 'turrets and crenellated towers and juliet balconies and a red and yellow porcelain-tiled mansard roof that, lit by the climbing sun, seems ablaze.' It's reached through a gate and 'astonishing, sweeping gardens'. In this sanctuary, a community lives in the antique style, each contributing their efforts to the whole. At the head of this group - which consists mainly of widows - is the seemingly aristocratic Tosca. She invites Marlena and Fernando to stay, gradually sharing her life story - and her liaison with Leo, the last prince of Sicily, whose ward she became at the age of nine.

Tosca shares with the author her upbringing with the young princesses, Leo personally supervizing her education. She tells of the whispering that she was the prince's puttanina, and of her own growing desire to take on this role. She speaks of Leo's intent - after the devastation of World War II - to improve the lot of the peasants on his 'vast tracts of land', and of his fellow aristocrats' reactions of disapproval and anger. As romance grows between prince and ward, so does the threat to their budding relationship from the clan (the Mafia), who have also expressed strong antagonism to Leo's reforms. After the inevitable tragedy strikes, Tosca must make a new life for herself and - emulating her prince - for others in need.

Though Marlena de Blasi learns most of Tosca's story while a guest at Villa Donnafugata, she must wait several years more for a full disclosure - which is ripe with surprises for both the author and her readers. Read That Summer in Sicily to enjoy history and a classic romance (based on a true story) in a 'high place where the old gods walked and slept, perpetrating ecstacies, wielding incubus. How little have three thousand years changed us!'

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