Another book I’d see on the shelf at my public library and was always temped to borrow is Katherine Wilson’s 2016 memoir Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law. While I’m not a big fan of food memoirs or travel stuff I do however have a slight to moderate fascination with Italy. After spending the last two years wondering if I should read this book last week I finally borrowed it. I’m happy to report Only in Naples is not only light, entertaining and charming but also an insightful outsider’s look at life in Southern Italy.
After graduating from Princeton with honors, Katherine Wilson felt she needed a little time overseas before starting graduate school. She secured an unpaid temporary internship at the US consulate in Naples and almost immediately upon her arrival was taken in by a loving Neapolitan family whose mother Raffaella was the best cook she’s ever encountered. Seeing she’s young and by herself in a foreign country they took Katherine under their wings without a second thought. Slowly but surely during her time in Naples she also began to fall in love with their son Salvatore, a handsome law student. Romance blossomed which lead to marriage which eventually lead to Katherine living the life of an American expat in Italy with a Italian husband and two children.
Soccer might be Italy’s national pastime but the country’s national treasure is its food. I learned from reading Only in Naples the Italians take immense pride in their cuisine. We Americans might be content with the microwaveable frozen individuals entries found in supermarkets and greasy take-out but the Italians prefer their meals lovingly made from scratch using only the best available ingredients. Sandwiches are best consider snacks, not meals and on the rare occasions when appropriate (like in a brown bagged lunch for a construction worker or soccer fan attending a match) they’re top-notch creations far exceeding anything available in America. During a hospital visit the author saw patients and their loved ones complaining about the food served. Every meal she saw looked absolutely mouth-watering to the point she could barely restrain herself from inhaling the food laden plates before they were cast aside by the disgruntled Italians. Arriving in Naples a bit overweight and plagued with an eating disorder, in her first five weeks living in Naples she lost 20 pounds, completely lost her urge to binge eat, and for the first time in her life thoroughly enjoyed what she ate.
Only in Naples is one of those wonderful books that exceeds your modest expectations. If you like to travel, cook or above all eat, it’s the book for you.