I Give It To You
Jan is an American academic and part-time writer. In 1983 she rents an apartment in Tuscany for the summer break in order to work on a biography of Mussellini. The apartment is actually part of a large rural villa, Villa Chiara, which has been the property of the aristocratic Salviati family for generations. Various members of this family are still resident in the main villa, but the family’s fortunes are now dwindling. Beatrice is the driving force behind the family’s efforts to maintain the estate and, although initially Jan’s hostess, they become close friends as the summer progresses. During their time together, Beatrice tells Jan many stories about the the Salviati family’s troubled history during the course of the 20th century. They keep in touch once Jan has left and this leads to repeated visits over the next few years, during which more of the family’s chequered history is revealed. Jan is fascinated by the stories she has been told and eventually, still struggling with Mussolini’s biography, sees a different book beginning to take shape.
Valerie Martin is a wonderful writer and this is an excellent story, very well told. The prose is evocative of both the time and the place conjuring up amazingly vivid scenes of life in rural Tuscany. Though essentially a slow-burner, it is never dull – in fact I was completely gripped throughout. This in itself is testament to the story-telling prowess of Valerie Martin.
My only criticism is that I was disappointed with the way in which the issue of “ownership” was tackled. The title of the book relates to this subject and I was full of anticipation that this was going to be the central theme of the book. I was looking forward to arguments for and against. The reality was that it reared its ugly head at the very end and was all over in a bit of a rush. That’s not to say that it wasn’t interesting, because it was. It’s also not a criticism of the main content of the book itself which was beautifully written and interesting in its own right. It was just a question of managing expectations. The more I thought about it afterwards (and I did think about it quite a lot afterwards – it was that kind of book), the more I realised that this may have been the only way of handling the whole question of ownership – tell the story first and then argue about “who owns it”. However, that doesn’t mitigate the frustration I felt at the somewhat sparse discussion surrounding this issue.
I have not come across Valerie Martin before but will certainly be looking out for more of her books. This was a really enjoyable read and I would particularly recommend it to readers who love Italy (and Tuscany in particular).
Two woman become close friends as adults. One is an American university professor who rents a small apartment that is part of an Italian villa in the countryside of Tuscany. She is looking forward to doing research and writing a historical book. The other is the partial owner of the villa with a complicated and ancient family. Through the years these two woman sporadically spend time with each other and forge a strong friendship. Over time the Italian shares her complicated family story saying several times "I give the story to you".
The author's ability to weave the Italian family's story with the modern day history of these two women is masterful. The descriptions of the landscape and people are well done and make you feel the hot Italian summer sultriness and smell the lemon blossoms. It is tightly written and a book that hold your attention.
This asks the question what does friendship mean? Does it mean different things to different people and how does one know.
This is a well crafted book, full of interest. A lifelong friendship, albeit at distance, is severely tested after many years of of intermittent contact. How can two people, who have known each other for most of their adult lives, differ so widely in their interpretation of events? This is not only about relationships but about the old villa at the centre of their lives. I will seek out more titles by this author.