Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
The novel A Dream of Italy, by Nicky Pellegrino, begins with a young Italian man, returning to his roots in a dilapidated medieval town with its narrow streets, fresh mountain air and views across the valley below. When he becomes mayor of Montenello, his goal is to restore the place to its former glory. The solution, presented by his elderly assistant, Augusto, is to advertise.
Live your dream of Italy for just ONE EURO.
To be considered as a future resident of Montenello those interested must contact the town’s mayor, Salvio Valentini, where they learn that to be considered they will need to renovate their new home within three years and be prepared to contribute in a meaningful way to the small friendly community.
This advertisement catches the attention of Mimi, a middle-aged woman from London whose marriage of thirty years has fallen apart and Edward, from Australia, whose life has become jaded. He is in a gay relationship with Gino whose family had originally come from southern Italy. Also intrigued are young English couple, Elise and Richard who despair that they will ever be able to buy a home of their own. At least one from each couple dream of Italy and are elated but apprehensive when they are selected from the many responses to the advertisement. Each of them believes that this could be the answer to the problems facing them at the present.
Each chapter in the book takes the perspective of one of these groups and the town itself becomes another key character with its own chapters. This provides a link between the new individuals coming to the town and the locals and provides the history of the area. Of course, a book about Italy would not be complete without the food, and the local matchmaker who in this case happens to be the mayor’s mother. She runs the closest accommodation with its own restaurant. The mayor’s assistant, who is often mistaken for the mayor himself because of his age, is also a colourful character with a long association with this town. He himself has a story to tell of love and regret.
I really enjoyed this feel good story of everyday people who were willing to take a risk for a dream.
The author, Nicky Pellegrino, is an English-born New Zealander of Italian descent and lives and writes in Auckland, New Zealand. Her novels are usually about friendship, food and family, and have been translated into 12 languages. Most of her novels are set in Italy and contain a ‘seize the day’ experience, as does this novel A Dream of Italy which is due for release in April 2019. Nicky Pellegrino has been producing books for over eighteen years. Earlier works include Delicious (2005), When in Rome (2012) and Under Italian Skies (2016).
The author presents the beauty and the uniqueness of an old mountain-clinging town and the richness and variety of the food eaten there, in a way that also allows the reader to dream of Italy. For those who cannot travel to this part of the world the books of Nicky Pellegrino are a good substitute for such an experience.
This is an uplifting story where individuals rediscover aspects of their own personality which have become submerged under the needs of others and by taking a chance increase their independence and self-esteem.
But there is also mystery. Why have so many families moved away from their homes and allowed them to fall into disrepair? What is the curse that some of the residences have hinted at? Why are there so few young people in this area? And who is the gruff young woman who has started re-furbishing a shop near the town square which is planned to open as a pasticceria?
The reader is left with a sense of satisfaction as this once lonely town begins to come to life with new people, renovated homes, re-connections to families, forgiveness, love and marriages.
There is even another similar advertisement planned for the future.
This is an easy to read journey of discovery into the lives of others in a part of the world not everyone gets a chance to discover. Even those who do travel may well miss this pocket of Italy as it is not near the usual tourist areas. It does however give the reader a chance to discover part of an authentic Italy.
By Nicky Pellegrino