First Book: La Cucina, by Lily Prior

22 10 2008

The Sicilian version of proto-foodie novel “Like Water for Chocolate”, in which our middle-aged librarian protagonist, Rosa Fiore, leaves her raucous rural peasant family, comprised of six older brothers, a pair of younger Siamese twins, and her frequently absent parents when her lover is murdered by the Mafia. She becomes an academic librarian in Palermo and saves her passions for her cooking, until a mysterious English visitor, L’Inglese, enters her life.

The book discussion is taking place here. However, if you haven’t yet read the book, or are in the process of reading it, there might be some spoilers!

You can order a new or used copy of the book from your local bookstore or on the Internet, or borrow a copy from a library or friend.  There are many used copies of the book available from booksellers on the Internet here.

SUBMISSIONS DEADLINE IS 15th DECEMBER

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29 responses

24 10 2008
Rachel

If you haven’t read the book yet, please be aware that this book discussion is likely to contain PLOT SPOILERS so be forewarned.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this sensual, earthy and tasty novel. The characters were often over-the-top and funny, but I enjoyed this kind of farcical writing. And the description of all that great food coming out of the cucinas. Man! I am having trouble deciding on whether to make homemade pasta, fancy cookies or maybe something really complicated.

Sometimes I had to slow down with my reading and think a while. I wasn’t sure whether I should take the plot elements literally (and I am so literal-minded) or whether they were meant to be symbolic of other things. The books has that magic realism style that Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabelle Allende employ so well, so I had to savor things and stop my reading flow quite a few times.

The epiphany for me came when I read the subtitle of the book. It is “La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture” and I went over to my trusty college dictionary to make sure I understood the full meaning of the the term “rapture”. There are three definitions of rapture in my Webster’s Ninth edition: “1) a state or experience of being carried away by overwhelming emotion; 2) a mystical experience in which the spirit is exalted to a knowledge of divine things; and 3) an expression or manifestation of ecstasy or passion.”

I’m guessing any of these three definitions could apply, but basically I would like to think main character Rosa got number three in a big way!

24 10 2008
debinhawaii

Great points Rachel! I too loved the crazy characters, fanciful plot twists and all the imagery in this book. It is so easy to get caught up and swept away in the story and its setting. In this novel, I also found that I could really relate to finding both rapture (OK maybe not quite in the same way–my kitchen is pretty tiny and there is no l’Inglese in it!) and solace in my kitchen. There are times when I need to make the world go away and allowing myself to get caught up in an afternoon of cooking for the escape and the tactile and sensual pleasure of the food grounds me and brings me peace. Although not every meal or dish I make is the embodiment of rapture, (those definitions are all perfect by the way Rachel!) there are those times that cooking is such an emotional, passionate experience for me, that allows me to create magic and to transcend the “real world”. Do any of you have the same feelings or experiences in your own cucina?

25 10 2008
Foodycat

I have to say I didn’t particularly enjoy this book – maybe because I was looking for inspiration for my cooking rather than just being absorbed! I loved the food descriptions, and I adored the fact that a fat middle aged (although she can only have been in her early 40s, so not really middle aged!) woman was the sensual protagonist. But I just found that I couldn’t really engage with any of the characters. Rosa says that she loves L’Inglese, but I didn’t feel it. I thought it might have been a deliberate distancing technique in part – she has spent so many years being detached and only coming alive in the kitchen – but aside from her raptures in the kitchen, which I can totally understand, it just wasn’t really for me.

26 10 2008
Natashya

At the end I was getting afraid that Inglese was her father. (!)
This escapist romp was just what I needed and had a lot of fun with. I finished in a couple of days.
I could go with the fantastic nature of the book, the only thing that pulled me out of the fantasy was the occasional English slang, and that she kneaded pastry for so long. It was more like handling bread dough.
But those are small things – I read so much straight foodie stuff – cookbooks and magazines and blog entries, it is great to have light fiction in the repertoire. Puts you in a different groove.
I look forward to the other books, especially the mysteries.
When do we start cooking and posting the book inspired dishes?

26 10 2008
cookthebooksclub

Oh boy, L’Inglese as the father, that’s too funny! I guess he was not the picture perfect Romeo with those funky yellow teeth, walrus mustache and front porch paunch, but he certainly had the right romantic attitude!

I say cook and post anytime up until November 15th and then we’ll have a vote for the best post so we can award that coveted Cook the Books badge to our La Cucina winner.

-Rachel

26 10 2008
Foodycat

November or December 15th?

26 10 2008
cookthebooksclub

Oops! I meant DECEMBER 15th!

-Rachel

27 10 2008
maybelles mom (feeding maybelle)

Hey, all. I think the book was very light, quick and I appreciated Rosa. But, I found the ending sort of unsatisfying. The scenes in Rosa apartment were very nice though, as Foodycat said, because she wasn’t a young woman but a more mature protagonist.

27 10 2008
mangomissives

I am skipping the comments right now since I don’t want to read spoilers.. but yay! a way to combine 2 of my passions: books and food. This book has been on my to-read list for awhile now.

27 10 2008
Arlene

I think being a foodie and Italian and a former English teacher colored my read of this novel. Having been to Sicily a few times and to Naples, I could easily imagine the “white deaths” and even the father killing his son for honor. I could relate, too, to Rosa’s expurgating her grief through cooking. This was akin to the literature of the Comedia dell Arte period in places, though I agree that Isabelle Allende came to mind in parts. As I used to caution students when they objected to fiction that wasn’t realistic, a willing suspension of disbelief goes a long way in appreciating a character such as Rosa as she experiences the rapture of physical love. I have to confess that I didn’t buy into her emotional love either. Having left her family and home , not having made contact with any of themin those 25 years, and having lived a life that can only be described as mechanical, it was difficult to accept that she would love a man based on so little acquaintance. After all, she and Bartolemo had grown up together; their love was conceivable.

While my own family cooks in the style of Naples and Calabria and I personally love the foods of northern Italy as well, my knowledge of Sicilian cooking is limited to a few desserts, pasta dishes, and common appetizers. I’ve been doing a little “research” online, but haven’t quite decided yet what I want to make. The dish that made my mouth water was the melted cheese on rustic bread. Yes, my tastes are simple. Overall, I’d have to say I’m glad I read La Cucina.

30 10 2008
Natashya

I just want to know how she is having amazing orgasms the second time she has sex! Damn, what took me so long?

30 10 2008
Arlene

Natashya, see…this is what I mean by a willing suspension of disbelief, LOL.

30 10 2008
Rachel

Well, I must say I thought the sex scenes were written very well, deliciously so, which I think is no mean feat. So many times erotic scenes are either written in a dreary, awkward fashion or there is the sense that the bed partners don’t enjoy each other’s company much. Here, there was affection, laughter, goofiness, sensuality.

I just went through my dog-eared copy of “La Cucina” before I ship it off to Crete to another Cook the Books reader to see what other things caught my fancy:

**I love Mama’s quote when questioned by Rosa about her brother Luigi’s telegram telling her to stop her daughter’s scandalous love affair:

“I may be old now,” said Mama, narrowing her black eyes at me, “but my yarn is not yet unraveled.”

**Little four-year-old Rosa tries to bring her dead grandfather back to life on the morning of his funeral by feeding him some fried panelle.

**Rosa cooks up yet another amazing dish in her apartment kitchen provoking the comment from one of her nosy, prudish neighbors that “She may be a whore, but she knows how to cook.”

**There is a lovely passage at the end of the book where Rosa returns to her farmhouse and the smells bring up memories of “being small and having spindly legs and grazed knees that tasted salty when you sucked them.”

Oh, yeah, and all that Sicilian home cooking!

2 11 2008
Foodycat

Arlene – I have been scouring the shops for caciocavallo to make that fried cheese! I can just imagine the smell of the garlic, cheese and vinegar on the good bread. I grew up in an area that had a lot of Calabrese migrants, so when I think of “bread” my default image is the crusty Italian white bread with the dense crumb which would be so perfect for putting fried cheese on!

Rachel – I loved that image of her trying to bring her grandfather back to life too.

5 11 2008
maria verivaki

dear rachel, the book just arrived!
i am looking forward to participating in the cookthebook event
thanks very much!

6 11 2008
Arlene

Having just drooled all over my screen at Foodycat’s antipasto, I am cancelling all other plans tomorrow as I go in pursuit of some cacciocavallo. Thanks to one of Rachel’s sites, I’ve found a simple, but no doubt delicious pasta which uses the cacciocavallo. Heaven!!!!

7 11 2008
maria verivaki

i’ve only read the first two parts of the book, and although as a novel, it doesn’t do it for me, i have to say the way rosa cooks reminds me so much of myself. i am always involved in a cooking frenzy – as a working mother and wife of a demanding cretan (read: sicilian) husband, cooking, using fresh ingredients from our garden or given to us by relatives, takes over most of my free hours when i am not at my office job.

i find it totally natural that food seeps into every part of her life, as it does in crete, where i live. sex has a lot to do with ‘loins’ in the book; we have an old adage in greek that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. this made me think of cooking something with loin chops…

rosa’s cucina is frenetic, like an orgy; in crete, cooking is an all-or-nothing activity. this made me think of cooking something like moussaka, which involves a huge amount of effort on the part of the cook (both in terms of cooking and cleaning up afterwards), only to be scoffed up in next to no time (the end finale !?!) by my eaters…

her favorite past time before she goes to work is to search for the best ingredients, such a priority in my own cucina – my daughter has picked up the gourmet gene from her father, and can tell at such a young age, what is ‘right’ and what is not in her mama’s kitchen…

as i said, i haven’t finished reading the book, so i still have time to change my mind;
it will not take long to finish it, so may i send it on to another interested reader. as soon as i do my write up, i can forward it to any reader who wants my copy (which i begged from rachel)

i love this blog event – great work to the trio who put it together

13 11 2008
Arlene

Two Italian delis down, a few more to go. No Cacciocavallo! I made a wonderful pasta with a sauce heavily-infused with tomato paste, something I don’t use as much as I used to, but had to use fresh mozzarella. It was heavenly, but didn’t count, so I didn’t post it. I have GOT to find that cheese; may have to take a trip to Manhattan to get it.

13 11 2008
Foodycat

It was really hard to find! I went to 3 Italian delis before I found a Sicilian stall at Borough Market (the really snazzy food market in London).

14 11 2008
Arlene

Hooray! Success! I almost succumbed and placed an order for the cacciocavallo, but $16 for S&H was more than I could bear to pay. Last night I scored at my favorite Italian deli; it’s in Pennsylvania, about a half hour from my home in NY. They had 2 types of cacciocavallo, one just for grating and the other a bit softer for eating. I bought the latter. I also picked up some of their wonderful soppressata. I want to try to use the cheese for a panini, then save the rest for a pasta dish next week. Can’t wait to try it out.

17 11 2008
Foodycat

Great news Arlene! I can’t wait to hear about the soppressata too. I saw that at the deli but I had already spent too much.

19 11 2008
Arlene

Used the cacciocavallo and soppressata to make an incredible panini. I’m waiting until the end of the week to use the cacciocavallo in a pasta dish, then I’ll post both recipes at once. I found so many cheeses I’ve never tried that I need to stay away from Fretta’s (deli) until after Thanksgiving.

1 12 2008
mangomissives

I finished reading La Cucina early this week and hope to have a review of it and some cooking inspired by it posted on my blog soon.

I enjoyed the book. I had read one other of Lily Prior’s novels before and it had that same magical realism undercurrent going on. I read most of La Cucina on the train while I was commuting to and from work. Some of the sex scenes made me hope that the man sitting beside me wasn’t reading over my shoulder. 😉

1 12 2008
Rachel

I’m so happy that this Cook the Books Club appears to have taken root and that people are enjoying the blend of reading and cooking. Johanna, Deb and I are already discussing plans for the next Cook the Books pick and are looking forward to a roundup of delicious Italian and Sicilian posts after our December 15th for “La Cucina”.

Arlene: great cacciocavallo post. I have to hunt down that elusive cheese now.

Mango: looking forward to your thoughtful post!

3 12 2008
Suzie

I have just finished the book, and posting my recipe is one of my last tasks before taking off on an extended holiday (including Italy – lucky me!!!). For me, the book didn’t ring true, although I loved the cooking and general mood of it – the neighbours, the gossip, the small towns, the Italian food. In my imagination, l’Inglese needed to look like Cary Grant to have enough charisma for the rest to happen (but then I do have a thing for Cary Grant…). The lack of contact and then sudden return to the abandoned family was improbable (surely she would have kept in touch with the twins??), but on the plus side, the humour was delicious, and it was a quick, easy, pleasurable book.

I am so glad that you have set up this group, and I am looking forward to joining in again next year.

17 12 2008
Foodfreak

I was intrigued by the idea and I am looking forward to further installments of this blogging event, unfortunately I didn’t manage to make it to the deadline and cook something.

I found the book rather boring, pretentious, crudely construed, the characters cliché-laden… even the language was, well… trite. Aside from the pasta making in the opening scene which seemed rather sensual, I didn’t enjoy this at all.

Still I am very curious about the next book choice 🙂

9 08 2013
Lily Prior – La Cucina Siciliana oder Rosas Erwachen @ Rezensionen

[…] Buch, das muss ich vorweg schicken, kam auf meinen Lesestapel durch den Cook the Books Club Event. Lily Priors “La Cucina” war die Leseauswahl für den November/Dezember, und ein Blick […]

14 05 2014
Lily Prior – La Cucina Siciliana oder Rosas Erwachen | Rezensionen

[…] Buch, das muss ich vorweg schicken, kam auf meinen Lesestapel durch den Cook the Books Club Event. Lily Priors “La Cucina” war die Leseauswahl für den November/Dezember, und ein Blick […]

24 11 2014
Kerrie

La Cucina……………
Hi all, Can someone please explain to me what really happened in the ending??? Was L’Inglese still alive, was she daydreaming again or was it a complete stranger. Can someone please put me out if my misery?
Kerrie

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