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Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy Hardcover – 1 May 1999

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press; First Edition edition (1 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767902831
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593045022
  • ASIN: 0593045025
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 14.4 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 585,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Often the most fascinating memoirs are written by people who seem to be quite unaware that they are actually monsters. Frances Mayes' entertainingly egocentric Bella Tuscany, the sequel to her best-selling Under the Tuscan Sun, nudges into this category. Like its predecessor, a lyrical account of an American teacher of creative writing's insertion of herself into Tuscan life and the Tuscan landscape, Bella Tuscany (shouldn't that be Bella Toscana, or is something to be inferred about the intended readership?) is a sustained, ecstatic trill of cypresses, dusty, immemorial hillsides and tile-roofed hill towns. With hunky husband Ed, Frances restores her farmhouse, plants flowers and grows vegetables, cooks, travels and generally swans about Italy, in the process transforming it into a vehicle for her glowing sensibilities. Occasionally she speculates briefly about those she encounters on the way--about the old farmers who tend her olive trees, about the Nigerian prostitutes surreally stationed along a lonely rural road by the Russian mafia--but the beam of her attention barely flickers. There is a telling moment early on: she looks out of the window; the landscape reveals itself for her to love. It is as though the whole of Tuscany, no, the whole of Italy is laid out for her benefit, for those exquisite Martha Stewart moments. And people are so kind: they just can't resist bestowing gifts on her. The lady at the nursery rushes out with a plant. The shy owner of the perfumery shop in town turns out to have paid for her cappuccino. Anselmo who manages their vegetable garden presents them with his wine-press. "This gentle courtesy happens frequently." Far more than any possible reader, she is an enthralled spectator of the pageant of her gorgeous life, which she is generous enough to share. One doesn't begrudge it her one bit. One reads, fascinated, then makes one's holiday plans for somewhere else. --Robin Davidson


"'There is much to enjoy in this volume, which is part guidebook, part gardening manual, part cookery book, part history, part language course, and which rolls along with sustained vigour and joyous enthusiasm'" (Daily Mail)

"'Meanders anecdotally and thoughtfully through a sabbatical spring and long summer . . . Part travelogue and part intelligent reflection on the essential quality of Italy and Italians'" (Independent) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 May 2001
Format: Paperback
This book is hard to define - it's an autobiographical account of an American couple who buy and restore a glorious villa in the Tuscan countryside. Part gardening manual, part travel diary, there are even recipes included, and its style is warm, enthusiastic and written by someone with a poet's love of words. I particularly liked the way Mayes shares her learning of Italian with the reader. One Italian idiom which made me laugh was 'acqua in bocca' which literally translates as 'water in the mouth, and means 'I won't tell anyone'.
Days are spent designing their garden, feasting with neighbours, and touring their new country, talking in copious amounts of food as well as culture.
However, the second half of the book lost me completely. There was less of the Italian experience and more of the writer's own childhood in America. Sorry, but I wasn't reading it to find out about her family or America! More of Italy please!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jane Dickens on 7 Jun. 2014
Format: Paperback
I am not aware of having read the first book in this series but I certainly wouldn't bother to read the next. I can't quite understand the reason she is writing the books, they certainly don't have anything enlightening to say about Tuscany or the people. The characters in the book are so lightly drawn that you cannot reach any understanding with them. This was overall very disappointing and I really had to persist to the end, which is a sorry state of affairs. I also have an awful characterisation in my mind of an American arriving to her holiday home and then jetting back leaving the plebs behind, having spent her time rambling about looking at frescoes, which she describes in a very ordinary way. You would expect a lovely read from the cover picture, sadly it turned out to be just the disjointed musings of a not-very-good writer. You would do better with a guidebook. Resist the temptation to purchase this.
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By Kittycat on 29 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
Frances Mayes' sequel to "Under the Tuscan Sun," this book finds Mayes and partner Ed with a (mostly) restored villa and more time for exploring Tuscany and other parts of Italy.

Mayes' writing is rich and evocative. She lovingly recounts golden days driving the back roads of Umbria, a last-minute trip to sunny Sicily when the Tuscan spring weather turned stormy, buying antiques in Arezzo, planning the garden at her villa Bramasole. As in her first book, she includes a few of her tried-and-true recipes - make sure you have something nice to eat in the fridge because they'll make you hungry!

Don't buy Bella Tuscany if you are looking for pure travel writing - this book is a memoir and Mayes includes passages about her life growing up in the American South, her daughter's wedding, her house in California. You will read about how a divorced, middle-aged woman decides to take a big risk in buying an abandoned house in Italy. How she restores it, and in turn restores in herself a sense of "the sweet life," an element that was missing from her hectic working life in California. The writing is sensual, sometimes whimsical, her love of Italy apparent in every chapter. She writes intimately, almost as if the reader is a close friend. Of all the books written about realising the dream, taking a risk and moving abroad, Mayes is by far my favourite author. If I can live my life as fully as Frances Mayes does, I will consider it a live well-lived.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This NOT, nor is it meant to be, a travel guide of Tuscany, the book is about the author's life there. Whilst I enjoyed the the first book Ms. Mayes wrote about her Italian life, I bought the second as a cd to listen to in the car and I regret not buying it again as a book. The author really should have paid for an actress to read the book, because her reading is excrutiatingly boring, totally monotone with sentences, paragraphs and chapters leading straight from one into another without any change in tone or pace so that you never know where one finishes and another begins. Very confusing. Also when she is speaking for Italian characters, there is no Italian accent even attempted at so that every character has the same soft southern American drawl.. This totally spoilt the book for me as I got more and more annoyed at Ms. Mayes' total inability to transfer the excellent written word to a vocal delivery.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By G. H. Kennedy on 28 Aug. 2002
Format: Paperback
I have just finished reading Bella Tuscany during our family holiday in the hills east of Florence. 2 years ago at the same old Tuscan farmhouse, I read and thoroughly enjoyed the first book Under The Tuscan Sun. This follow up started off reasonably well but by half way it began to loose its grip on me. Being in Italy I could relate to quite a few of the passages but bagan to wonder what the purpose of this book was. Jumping back and forth across the Atlantic, from present to past, by the end I realised that one third of the text should have been in the first and the rest was simple padding out. The recipes especially are a waste of pages particularly those from the deep south of the US. One passage that summed it all up for me was the section about tourists in Venice - the author appears to look down on those, like myself without realising that She too is just another tourist in Venice. Bramasole was an interesting conversion project but is still a holiday home.
The current book started whilst still under the Tuscan sun is a very different matter - Tim Parks' Italian Neighbours is a joy - a real ex-Pat living and working near Verona - this book captures the real Italy without the distractions contained in Bella Tuscany.
I have still to read the third book In Tuscany which I bought for the photographs - sorry Frances, if I wanted another recipe book I would have bought one. If Under The Umbrian Sun appears I don't think I'll bother.
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