Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy

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9780865475014: Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy

In the 1980s, the American writer Wallis Wilde-Menozzi moved with her Italian husband and her daughter to Parma, a small city in northern Italy that has existed since Roman times. Her search for a place for herself in a society that often seems closed to outsiders led Wilde-Menozzi to explore the pull between individualism and community, the role of women in both Parma's culture and her own Midwestern upbringing, and the powers and limits of language in the service of self knowledge, self expression, and artistic and political freedom. In doing so, she unearthed the extraordinary stories of remarkable Italians and remarkable women, including the Renaissance badessa Giovanna Piacenza, the fighting Donella Rossi Sanvitale, and her own indefatigable mother-in-law. No other book evokes so poignantly and profoundly the role of food, faith, and family attachment in Italian life and, by reflection, our own.

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About the Author:

Wallis Wilde-Menozzi's poetry, essays, short stories, and translations have been published in journals such as Granta, The Kenyon Review, Southwest Review, Southern Review, and Agni Review. Her work has appeared in Canada, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Israel, and Taiwan.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A poignant and poetic memoir of an American woman's life in Parma, Italy. In 1981, less than a year after her marriage to an Italian biology professor, Wilde-Menozzi (with her six-year-old daughter) followed her husband back to his native city of Parma. As a poet, short-story writer, and translator, Wilde-Menozzi is almost painfully conscious of the long and glorious tradition of expatriates who took root in Italy: The spirit of that great exile James Joyce seems, in particular, to pervade the book. In some ways, her work is reminiscent of the English writer Tim Parks, who settled in Verona and wrote Italian Neighbors (1992) and An Italian Education (1995) about his life there. But while Parks writes with ironic detachment, Wilde-Menozzi is passionate, sensuous, even fierce, whether dealing with the initial dilemma of relinquishing her freedom and following her husband to Italy (the words ``follow him,'' she writes, ``link me to all the Ruths that ever were'') or comparing her own ``bland and boring'' childhood with the chaotic intensity of her husband's family. Life, death, politics, language, art, books, food, and love commingle on the page. The author's sojourn in Italy becomes the catalyst for intensive soul-searching, which refracts off the page in marvelous images: She speaks of coffee reaching ``a noisy orgasm in the espresso pot.'' Discussing bread's centrality in Italian life, she celebrates it as ``a sacred gift''; whether it is ``fresh, stale, hanging on, filling bitter hunger, nourishing hopes, crusty and chewable,'' bread is ``sometimes all there is.'' Evocative and moving. (27 b&w photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Wallis Wilde-Menozzi
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