Katherine Wilson’s debut memoir, Only In Naples: lessons in food and famiglia from my mother-in-law, is engaging and lighthearted. Naples, sometimes called the Appalachia of Italy, may not be the first place you consider when planning a trip to Italy, but this book may change that opinion. Don’t expect to visit all the sites and cultural destinations travel guides advise, but be prepared to join in on family life in a city with many hidden charms.
Like Frances Mayes’s Under the Tuscan Sun, Elaine Sciolino’s The Only Street in Paris and Eloisa James’s Paris In Love, you will encounter the authentic city seen through the eyes of an American who went to Naples post college for a three month internship at the U.S. Consulate and never left. Not fluent in Italian, she soon fell in love with Southern Italy, the people, a family and a man.
Many cultural curiosities differentiate Naples from the U.S. including the importance that family, food and shared meals play in the every day life of most Napolitani. No giant supermarkets here, since people still buy their bread, cheese, meat and fish from neighborhood vendors and believe it’s important to know the origin of the food they feed their families. Shocked by the small size of the Italian kitchen compared to the large entertainment sized ones in many American homes, Wilson learns that size doesn’t matter and the coziness of these spaces adds to a family’s closeness.
Italian women aren’t insulted by the physicality or the octopus type hands of Italian men. They may fight them off but don’t think that’s odd. Many adult children live with their parents for decades and courtships can go on just as long. Italian TV, as Wilson states, is a ‘combination of Disney and porn’. They have cartoon shows and shows with people dressed up in animal costumes and a number where much of the human body is on display purposefully or accidentally. Italians don’t understand why Americans eat Oreos, don’t use bidets, haven’t embraced soccer, or complain about the insane driving on Italian roads. Lying is considered appropriate to further a cause and a corrupt government and the Mafia are not thought to be unusual.
You will learn more about Naples including what a hoot a mother-in-law can be if you grab your armchair and join Katherine Wilson in this delightful and witty book.