La Cucina (Prior)

La Cucina
Lily Prior, 2001
HarperCollins
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780060953690


Summary
Since childhood, Rosa Fiore—daughter of a sultry Sicilian matriarch and her hapless husband—found solace in her family's kitchen. La Cucina, the heart of the family's lush estate, was a place where generations of Fiore women prepared sumptuous feasts and where the drama of extended family life was played out around the age-old table.

When Rosa was a teenager, her own cooking became the stuff of legend in this small community that takes pride in the bounty of its landscape and the eccentricity of its inhabitants. Rosa's infatuation with culinary arts was rivaled only by her passion for a young man, Bartolomeo, who, unfortunately, belonged to another. After their love affair ended in tragedy, Rosa retreated first into her kitchen and then into solitude, as a librarian in Palermo. There she stayed for decades, growing corpulent on her succulent dishes, resigned to a loveless life.

Then, one day, she meets the mysterious chef, known only is I'Inglese, whose research on the heritage of Sicilian cuisine leads him to Rosa's library, and into her heart. They share one sublime summer of discovery, during which I'lnglese awakens the power of Rosa's sensuality, and together they reach new heights of culinary passion. When I'Inglese suddenly vanishes, Rosa returns home to the farm to grieve for the loss of her second love. In the comfort of familiar surroundings, among her, growing family, she discovers the truth about her loved ones and finds her life transformed once more by the magic of her cherished Cucina.

Exuberant and touching, La Cucina is a magical evocation of lifes mysterious seasons and the treasures found in each one. It celebrates family, food, passion, and the eternal rapture of romance. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Lily Prior is the author of La Cucina, Ardor, and Nectar and she divides her time between London and Italy. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
Succulent saga...with a sensuous tone, a folkloric narrative style and a most original set of characters, La Cucina could well satisfy the hungriest of appetites.
People


Sumptuously appointed, celebratory and sensuous, this debut novel is a mouth-watering blend of commedia dell'arte and Greek tragedy. Prior cooks up a cinematic yarn full of characters so rich you'll fear they're fattening, but readers will be sure to splurge on this saucy tale chock full of sex, recipes and murder. Born in 1915, Rosa Fiore grows up on the family farm in the Sicilian village of Castiglione with six older brothers and her younger Siamese twin siblings, Guera and Pace (war and peace). Her childhood is punctuated by her parents' frequent lovemaking and the "disappearances" orchestrated by the local Mafiosi. Rosa spends most of her time in what is really the core of the family, la cucina, the kitchen, which is the outlet for all Rosa's passions except one, her lover, Bartollomeo. After he is murdered when she is 18, she flees to the big city of Palermo. There she becomes a librarian, abstaining from the pleasures of cooking and love for 25 years. One day, a mysterious Englishman named Randolph Hunt comes into the library, claiming to be researching the regional cuisine of Rosa's youth. She calls him simply l'Inglese. Reawakening her dormant spirit, l'Inglese initiates Rosa into the world of sexual and gastronomic abandon. But along with love comes risk of pain. When l'Inglese mysteriously "disappears," can the Mafia be involved? Ironic humor, fantastical subplot twists, attention to touching detail in setting and tone and a delightful gift for characterization make this sexy black comedy an award-winning recipe for pleasure. The combination of sex and food will undoubtedly invite comparisons with Like Water for Chocolate and 8U Weeks. Add a dash of Goodfellas, and there's something for everyone.
Publishers Weekly


Rosa Fiore, a middle-aged, overweight Italian librarian in Palermo, spends a quarter of a century furiously, exquisitely cooking away memories of the tragic murder of her first and only lover, Bartollomeo, whose throat was slit by his own father. Rosa's self-imposed exile, far from home, is filled with recipes so delicious she drives her neighbors wild. Rosa's dormant passion explodes in the arms of a mysterious stranger, l'Inglese, who enters her library to do research and immediately professes uncontrollable desire for Rosa's body and for her cooking knowledge. Thus begins a summer of gourmet meals and noisy sex. When l'Inglese disappears, Rosa's tortured daydreams of past frolicking lead to a house fire and her near death. Her slow recuperation begins when she is rescued by her long-estranged family, who bring her home. Reminiscent of Laura Esquivel and John Irving, mixed with a healthy dollop of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Prior's debut is clever, untamed, funny, and at times shocking. For larger fiction collections. —Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI
Library Journal


Librarian readers will probably tire of the cliched description of Rosa: an overweight, undersexed spinster, chided by her staff and revolting to her patrons. However, the food she cooks is fabulous. —Bonnie Smothers
Booklist


[A] lonely, middle-aged librarian...experiences a sexual reawakening intimately linked to her sensual kitchen skills.... One day a mysterious stranger with thinning hair, a small mustache, and bad teeth arrives at the library to do culinary research... The two embark on an affair of torrid lovemaking.... But Rosa's new happiness ends abruptly when [her lover] vanishes.... Happily, though, a rosy—if inexplicable—ending lies in store for plucky Rosa. Less a banquet of the senses than a junk-food gorge.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. During the twenty-five years she is in Palermo, Rosa receives only two letters from her mother. How would you describe their relationship, both before Rosa journeys to Palermo and after she returns home?

2. After Bartolomeo's death, Rosa retreats into la cucina for solace and then leaves for Palermo. Why do you think she chose to leave Castiglione and her family? Why does she not return for such a long period of time?

3. Rosa and l'Inglese are instantly attracted to one another. What is it that l'Inglese sees in Rosa that she does not see in herself?

4. Compare Rosa's love for and relationship with Bartolomeo to that of l'Inglese. How does each relationship alter Rosa's life and what does she learn from each one?

5. Rosa knows next to nothing about l'Inglese's background or his personal life. What exactly is their relationship based on? In one instance she replies to l'Inglese, "'Yes, I trust you,' I said, although I was not entirely convinced that I did" (pg. 165). What do you think this means?

6. Shortly before l'Inglese disappears, Rosa says, "For the first time in my life I was completely happy. I had the feeling that if I were to die tomorrow I would be satisfied with my life; I had known what it was to experience life and to experience love" (pg. 167). Does she still believe this after l'Inglese disappears?

7. "I mourned for l'Inglese, for the time we had had together, and for myself: for my true self, which I had become with him, quite suddenly, in a blaze of color like a butterfly, and which I would never be again (pg. 186)." Do you think Rosa is selling herself short by believing that she could only be her "true self" when she was with l'Inglese? When she returns home, Rosa learns some surprising things about her loved ones, but what does she learn about herself?

8. How does the Sicilian setting contribute to the story? Can you imagine the novel having been set in another location, even another part of Italy?

9. Discuss la cucina and how it plays out in the story. What is your favorite moment in the story that you think best reflects the essence of la cucina?

10. Discuss the ending of the novel. Does l'Inglese indeed return, or is Rosa having a daydream? What, in your opinion, is the novel really about?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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