I have been an ardent fan of accomplished author Wallis Wilde-Menozzi since reading in 1997 her fascinating Mother Tongue, An American Life In Italy. Those of you with whom I have been fortunate enough to engage in conversation know that it is one of my all-time favorite books by one of my favorite authors. While I have not yet, regrettably, met Wallis in person, from some email exchanges, but especially from her writings, I feel like I know her. Her stories, reflections, insights and observations in Mother Tongue influenced me greatly. She gave voice in such eloquent prose to so many formless, hodge-podge reflections of my own.
Once again in The Other Side of the Tiber, another absolutely fascinating book of memoirs which I recently finished reading, I am overwhelmed by the breadth of material the author tackled, explored, examined, reflected upon…as well as the remarkable insights she shares. Her thorough understanding of the too often extremely baffling nuances of Italian life and culture is profound and so well illustrated by numerous examples to which (as someone who has lived in Italy for 45 years) I closely relate and with which I intimately identify.
the beautiful original cover of the hardcover edition of Mother Tongue, An American Life in Italy
and now, finally available in ebook format!
It is extremely difficult for me to write a review which does The Other Side of the Tiber minimum justice. I am in awe of the intellectual depth, breadth, understanding, humility, openness, humanity, emotional honesty and empathy the author demonstrates in describing such a wide array of memories of varied nature -poignant and some surely painful memories of both her American upbringing and her early Italian experience – her Rome years.
I found the author’s examples and descriptions of the stark differences of the psychological/social/emotional/physical reality of the two distinct cultures extremely vivid, clearly in focus…as in a good photograph (of which there is also a nice selection of the author’s very own).
I was especially touched as the author painted a picture of the life of the courtyard with its interpersonal relationships, raw hardships, tragedies and heartaches endured so stoically by her co-dwellers – the poor souls who nevertheless lived their miserable plights with dignity…never failing to generously look out for each other as they shared their dreary realities. The author also reveals several poignant personal episodes which add to our understanding of her background and experiences which shaped her view of the world – a view of life which was necessarily challenged during her Rome years by myriad experiences and situations in the entirely new context in which she was living. There are also interesting glimpses of the author’s more recent years as she continues to live in Italy.
Art lovers will be especially thrilled by the author’s significant attention to art. While it is quite a task to be original in commenting on Caravaggio or Michelangelo, the author shares enlightening personal insights.
For those readers yearning for realistic, insightful, beautifully written and intelligent material on Italian life, this book offers all this…and much, much more. The author’s personal memoirs help us better define our own reflections on intriguing Italy. An appreciative ‘thank you’ goes to this amazing author for another remarkable and engaging book!
I would like to share with you two excellent comments on The Other Side of the Tiber which capture the very essence of this memoir.
“Wilde-Menozzi’s stunning prose and astute cultural observations untangle meanings in a country where ancient history constantly brushes up against contemporary life, compassion trumps individualism, and beauty infuses every cobble-stoned step…. The reader couldn’t find a more enlightening guide to Italy and to an Italian state of mind.”–Maria Laurino, Were You Always an Italian and Old World Daughter, New World Mother
“Wallis Wilde-Menozzi’s riveting book takes up the enduring American dream–ardent Midwestern girl throws over everything to seek her artistic self and a deeper life in the beguiling beauty of an ancient city. But what marks The Other Side of the Tiber as a great enterprise is the nostalgia-free, fierce yet tender reprise of the years from the Sixties until now in Italy, a search made timeless by the depth charge of Wilde-Menozzi’s interrogation of memory and history in a profound search for empathy, the rare fellow-feeling essential to a life beyond oneself. A commanding intelligence is at work here, graced with uncommon generosity.” –Patricia Hampl
and now… on to her latest ambitious work – her debut novel
(from amazon.com) “Written by an accomplished American writer who has lived in Italy for several decades, this debut novel addresses issues of expatriation and immigration, prostitution and exploitation, from the Third World to the First, set within the microcosm of late-20th century Florence, that city which is both symbolically and literally the jewel of the Italian Renaissance. It is a novel where the common humanity of the characters is found in new and radically different circumstances, and where all transpires within the passage of a tiny sliver of time, 15 hours.
This is not the expatriate Florence of Henry James, Edith Wharton or William Dean Howells, rather it is that literary topos, tradition and city turned inside out, upside down, in this ground breaking novel where the sun and heavens are also part of the action, as is the underground.”
To Wallis, a heartfelt thanks for her intelligent books, for her profound understanding of this baffling country, for helping us to clarify and to put into focus our own often confused reflections. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading this fascinating author, her books are all available online in various formats. I would love to hear your impressions once you have read any of her books.