Full of lighthearted humor, sumptuous food, the wisdom of an Italian mother-in-law, and all the atmosphere of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, this warm and witty memoir follows American-born Katherine Wilson on her adventures abroad. Thanks to a surprising romance—and a spirited woman who teaches her to laugh, to seize joy, and to love—a three-month rite of passage in Naples turns into a permanent embrace of this boisterous city on the Mediterranean.
When I saw the sea at Gaeta, I knew that Naples was near and I was coming home.
“There is a chaotic, vibrant energy about Naples that forces you to let go and give in,” writes Katherine, who arrives in the city to intern at the United States Consulate. One evening, she meets handsome, studious Salvatore and finds herself immediately enveloped by his elegant mother, Raffaella, and the rest of the Avallone family. From that moment, Katherine’s education begins: Never eat the crust of a pizza first, always stand up and fight for yourself and your loved ones, and consider mealtimes sacred—food must be prepared fresh and consumed in compagnia.
Immersed in Neapolitan culture, traditions, and cuisine, slowly and unexpectedly falling for Salvatore, and longing for Raffaella’s company and guidance, Katherine discovers how to prepare meals that sing, from hearty, thick ragù to comforting rigatoni alla Genovese to pasta al forno, a casserole chock-full of bacon, béchamel, and no fewer than four kinds of cheeses. The secret to succulent, tender octopus? Beat it with a hammer. While Katherine is used to large American kitchens with islands and barstools, she understands the beauty of small, tight Italian ones, where it’s easy to offer a taste from a wooden spoon.
Through courtship, culture clashes, Sunday services, marriage, and motherhood (in Naples, a pregnancy craving must always be satisfied!), Katherine comes to appreciate carnale, the quintessentially Neapolitan sense of comfort and confidence in one’s own skin. Raffaella and her famiglia are also experts at sdrammatizzare, knowing how to suck the tragedy from something and spit it out with a great big smile. Part travel tale, part love letter, Only in Naples is a sumptuous story that is a feast for the senses. Goethe said, “See Naples and die.” But Katherine Wilson saw Naples and started to live.
Rating: 4 stars
Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson is a surprising memoir that took me on a fabulous journey to Naples, Italy. There I followed a young woman who has just graduated and decided to intern in a foreign country like her parents did. This read was full of adventure and unexpected moments. Like when crumbs from the main character’s piazza fell, into her lap and the next moment a young woman sitting next to her reaches down by her crotch area…was like omg….what?! Then there was the car ride with the wind howling loud and she mentions marriage to a Neopolitan man like this: marriage…us? The answer was fine. Okay fine. Crazy, exciting, and definitely a memorable ride as readers like myself follow the American woman’s experiences living in Italy. The cultural, food, and language kept me turning the pages. Little by little I was learning words here and there in the Italian language. Not only was Only in Naples an entertaining read but also an educational one too. I loved reading this title that was brilliantly written by Katherine Wilson. Overall, I highly recommend this to readers everywhere.