Travel books that carry us off to a world unknown are a welcome respite from our humdrum routine. More so, when we find ourselves in a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, prompting us to hide inside our homes and forego any travel plans for the foreseeable future.
Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure is a work of fiction by author Andrew Cotto that offers a ticketless ride to immerse oneself in a sensual experience in Italy. The central character, Jacoby, accompanies his fiancée, Claire, to Florence after losing his job in New York due to a freak email accident at work. Claire, a travel writer, takes on a contract to write about little known vacation spots in Florence, Italy, thus giving them a chance to save their floundering relationship.
Meanwhile, Jacoby also harbors a secret – a photograph he found among his mother’s belongings. He is sure that if he seeks out the origins of the picture, apparently, in Florence, he would find a family to call his own. Having lost both his parents, Jacoby is now pining for his roots.
On reaching Florence, a strange feeling of ‘hiraeth’ overcomes his rationale, and he succumbs to the sensory experiences that await him in this foreign land. The author’s love for Italy and Italian food is evident from his writing style. The days progress through delicious breakfasts, sumptuous lunches, and soporific dinners. We see Italy through Jacoby’s eyes, and except for the urge to find the origin of the photograph, there is a charming lack of urgency. Our minds wander around as aimlessly as Jacoby in the streets of Florence.
The story tries to give due credit to the inhabitants of the city – native Italians as well as settlers from other countries, who have fallen in love with the culture and food. However, fleeting encounters with some of the characters who form the sub-plots, often leave you wanting more as a reader. It was as if Jacoby knows that he has plenty of time to get to know all of them, although his original plan was to stay on only for a year.
We get to know more about Jacoby’s love for food and music, but his relationship with others and himself is not explored much. There is an occasional mention of parents whom he lost but no insights into his childhood.
There is no heart to heart talks, philosophical musings, or signs of inner turmoil. What we get are flirtatious conversations, polite hospitality, friendly dinners, and a happy community. Sorrows, if there are any, seem to disappear behind wine glasses and delicious food.
Food plays a significant role in the progression of the story, and I ended up feeling hungry every time I picked this book to read. Jacoby, a decent cook himself, falls in love with the traditional cooking methods in Italian kitchens and relishes every opportunity to partake in the making of a meal. I made me wonder that if it were not for food, would Jacoby have survived this sojourn? Probably, not.
Whether Jacoby solves the mystery behind the pic? Does it help him stay on in Italy? Where does life lead him next after a disheartening ouster from his New York job? These are some of the questions that drive the book, but they do so at a sauntering pace.
Cucina Tipica rolls along like an open convertible along the winding roads of Florence, giving the reader glimpses of its architecture, traditions, lifestyle, and a sneak-peak into the hearts of the simple-minded villagers. The villagers, who are often just worried about their bread, meat, and wine.
I wish that there was an attempt to go beyond the faculties of taste, smell, and sight to something more spiritual. An intention to connect to the culture through its people, with more in-depth, erudite conversations, would have left Jacoby and the reader, with a richer mind.
There were places where I felt that the food and other sensuous descriptions overwhelmed the story within. But this is so akin to a trip, where all one wants is to sit back and enjoy. A holiday mood pervades the book from start to finish.
Book Name: Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure
Author: Andrew Cotto
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Book Type: eBook
Disclaimer: This honest review is based on a complimentary copy of the eBook sent by the author.