Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law hints of upcoming recipes. Chapter titles (Pasta e Fagioli, Gelato alla Nocciola, and Insalata di Polipo) add confirmation of Italian repasts to come. Remembering a long ago Italian landlady named Jenny who thought she adopted us when we rented her upstairs apartment, I was ready to read.
Lines from Katherine Wilson’s introduction foretold that more than recipes would follow. Referring to Greek mythological sirens hanging out on the rocky cliffs near Naples, she says, “I did not arrive in Naples tied to a mast. I arrived on a packed Delta flight from Washington, D. C. in the fall of 1996 . . . I saw Naples and started to live.”
Having come to the city to intern at the US consulate, Katherine gets more than she expected as she meets a good-looking scholar named Salvatore. When he introduces her to his mother Raffaella and the entire Avallone family, the fun begins.
I sometimes wondered as I read whether she was falling in love with Salvatore, the food, the beauty of Naples, or Raffaella’s irrepressible personality. The answer was probably “all of the above” as she makes her way through a different life in Naples. Katherine’s lighthearted voice as she embraces new customs, foods, and traditions brings the reader on her journey that outlasts the internship as those things with which she falls in love bring attachment to her new Italian environment and family.
The recipes take a while to show up, but there they are near the end with directions embroidered by Raffaella’s voice and instructions. The complicated and time-consuming recipes may not send you to the kitchen, but they will entertain.
If you need angst and trauma in a memoir, this one is not for you. On the other hand, if you love good food, a fine romance, and laughter, you don’t want to miss it.