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4.4 out of 5 stars24
4.4 out of 5 stars
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I had expected from the outset that this memoir would be a fascinating, informative read and very different from some of the other `place in the sun' type travelogues I am used to! Told by Daphne Phelps who inherits her late uncle's home in the Sicilian town of Taormina, it is initially set in the years post world war II. It chronicles her life from the arrival in the town and fifty plus decades of her inhabitation there and the changing face of the island. Warm and witty, it is a look at Sicily from an ex-pats perspective, but of a place steeped in proud culture and firm traditions, though Phelps' arrival does shake things up a little bit!

The narrative flows beautifully and is peppered with warm and humorous little anecdotes about Phelps and her day to day life in Sicily, as well as some of the trials and tribulations she has to overcome, including amongst other things, ingratiating herself with the local mafia! Though a lot of it contains a wealth of historical knowledge and local customs and traditions it is never dry. Phelps comes across as a warm hearted and gracious lady and it is clear just how highly she was regarded by her adopted town, as well as by some of the artist and writer friends she would later entertain at Casa Cuseni.

If I had to criticise anything about this book, I suppose it would be the fact that Phelps introduces a very large cast of characters and it does become confusing as to who is who at times and her relationship to them. Personally, I would have also liked to learn a little bit more about some of her more famous house guests- particularly Roald Dahl. I would have also liked to learn a little bit more about some of the Sicilian cuisine. This is only a very small criticism though, as on the whole I found this novel to be a charming and fascinating look at life in post-War Sicily, especially from an independent woman's point of view!

Though this author sadly died in 2005, this book nevertheless remains a wonderful testament to both her and her devotion to Casa Cuseni and Sicily itself. I would recommend it if you enjoy well-written travel writing or have a particular affinity with Sicily and its people.
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on 25 August 2007
This is a lovely book written by someone who was obviously a very special person. If you are thinking of visiting Sicily or are interested in the island, this is not a guide book but an excellent place to start. It communicates the true nature of the country and its people and does it with great humour. I couldn't put it down and it was definitely the most interesting book I have read about Sicily. If the Casa Cuseni was taking paying guests now, I would definitely stay here.
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I was directed to this book by Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers and bought it for my wife and I to read prior to a trip to Sicily we took last week. The author tells the story of how she came to be left a beautiful house on a hillside overlooking the pretty town of Taormina on the east coast of Sicily. Originally intending to immediately sell it, she soon fell under its spell, became fascinated by post-war Sicilian society, and ended up running it as a guest house whose visitors included Tennessee Williams, Bertrand Russell, Roald Dahl and Henry Faulkner. The account of Russell's visit is one I remembered from reading Ronald Clark's biography long ago; it contains the memorable scene of the aged and distinguished philosopher sitting on a rock during a riotous midnight fishing expedition off the coast of Taormina and declaring "I'm as drunk as a Lord - but then, I *am* a Lord, so it doesn't matter". Phelps tells a good tale, and the insights into the behaviour of her famous guests are interspersed with more homely accounts of her interactions with members of the local community that highlight her kindness and generosity to the poor and disadvantaged.

Phelps died in 2005, but her house is still open to visitors; we enjoyed the book so much that we sought it out when we were in Taormina, and found it just as delightful as her story about it. Recommended.
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on 13 May 2010
Daphne has a wonderful way of making you feel as if you were actually there in this obviously beautiful unspoilt house in Sicily. A must for anyone planning to visit the island or even as a read to lift you out and transport you even if its for a short time.
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on 14 August 2012
Having been to the house (casa cuseni) I felt I ought to read the book. Not usually my sort of thing but this is good easy reading and gives an insight into both old Sicily and old English ways of living. It was also good to relate what she was describing to what we had actually seen, it made it feel more immediate. If you are in Taormina, Casa Cuseni is definitely worth a visit (you can also stay there). Make sure you phone ahead to check when they are open.
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on 18 August 2000
There are many books about life in Italy, but this one is unique. Daphne Phelps recounts her years learning to appreciate and finally love the Sicilians and Sicily. She paints an impressionistic picture of the individuals that have had a impact on her and her life there. You become involved with each one. She has had great compassion for them and their ways of life. She had many obstacles to overcome and did so with grace and the friends she found there. This book is a joy to read and savour.
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on 5 January 2015
Bought this for my sister in law who was going to Taormina on honeymoon. I'd read it years before after I'd visited and all the places and the warmth and cuisine were still fresh in my mind. Lovely to read once you've visited.
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on 5 December 2013
Superb small book that captures the essence of life in Sicily. We actually visited the house in Taormina and it proved to be one of the highlights of our holiday.
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on 15 July 2014
This is a marvellous book, full of sunshine, eccentric characters (not just Sicilian), atmosphere, funny (often very funny) stories, etc. It sounds a magical place and Daphne Phelps copes indefatigably with everything Sicily and her circumstances throw at her. She is for Sicily as Axel Munthe was for Capri.
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on 18 May 2013
An interesting insight into a window on the history of Sicily. Having just visited, it helped to explain some of the background.
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