Paula Butturini’s culinary and travel memoir, Keeping the Feast: One Couple’s Story of Love, Food, and Healing in Italy, is much different from the norm. She includes no recipes but the evocative descriptions of her favorite dishes past and present and the lush, lyrical images she uses to bring Italy and other locations to the reader provide a fulfilling reading experience.
Butturini met her future husband, John, when they were both working as foreign correspondents in Europe. They shared a common background, having both been raised by Italian parents who cherished family meals and dinners together and celebrated many of the same traditions and rituals.
Soon, they began living together in Rome. In 1989, a few weeks before their Italian wedding, Butturini was attacked and severely beaten in Czechoslovakia while covering student protests after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wedding went ahead as planned and the couple moved to Poland because of their journalistic obligations. Just weeks after their wedding, John was shot by a sniper while on assignment in Romania and was critically wounded.
Still recovering from her own injuries, Butturini rushed to her husband’s bedside. After a long recovery period, John did eventually heal physically. But, the emotional and mental trauma and stress that he endured plummeted him into a deep depression. Putting aside her own fears, Butturini decided that they must move back to Rome, where they had met and lived their happiest days, to help facilitate her husband’s recovery.
This story weaves back and forth from childhood to the present relating anecdotes, traditions and family celebrations. These memorable occasions all act as touchstones that help keep families together. This is what Butturini was counting on when she and John moved back to Italy. But, in the background there are constant reminders to Butturini of her own mother’s struggles with life long depression. There are some wonderfully light parts to this memoir but it is tempered by the tenacity, selflessness, faith and humility that Butturini displayed by trying everything in her power to help her husband and keep her marriage and life in tact. This is simply a beautifully rendered story, much more than your typical memoir.