rating: 4 of 5 stars
Lily Prior‘s La Cucina is a steamy and saucy little novel about Rosa, a Sicilian woman with a passion for food. Rosa grows up on a farm in a rural area of Siciliy. She is the only girl amongst a gaggle of brothers and she spends much of her time growing up in la cucina (the kitchen) learning how to cook. By the time she is a teenager, Rosa is a master chef who wows the farm workers and other locals with her food.
In many ways this book reminded me of Like Water for Chocolate or other works of magical realism. Rosa’s passion for food and her sexual awakening made for some steamy reading. The underlying theme of the book is a woman’s journey towards self-discovery. While Rosa is preparing their dinner, her lover tells her
Signorina, soon you will see that the arts of amore e cucina compliment one another perfectly. Indeed they are part of the same thing: the celebration of life. We should not sacrifice one for the other.
The best part of the book for me were the details of Rosa preparing food. Rosa makes dish after dish of Sicilian specialties, from pasta to breads. Lily Prior has written mouth-watering descriptions of food. Some parts had me wanting to run home and whip up some Italian food.
I began by preparing pasta: my deft little fingers forming the intricate shapes of rigatoni, ravioli, spiralli, spaghetti, cannelloni, and linguini. Then I would brew sauces of sardines, or anchovies, or zucchini or sheep’s cheeses, of saffron, pine nuts, currants, and fennel.
I read Prior’s novel Nectar several years ago. Nectar was about an albino woman with a scent that men found irresistible. It had a similar undercurrent of sensuality and magical realism as La Cucina. I enjoyed La Cucina a bit more than I liked Nectar. I suggested another of Prior’s novels, Ardor, for a selection for one of my book clubs. Ardor is a “fairy tale for adults” about an Italian olive grower who buys magical seeds that are supposed to make women fall in love with him. But, my book club proclaimed that the novel sounded too bizarre. I like bizarre! I will definitely be reading Ardor at some point in the future.
Later this week I will be cooking up some food inspired by Rosa’s endeavors in la cucina…perhaps some soup and some pasta. La Cucina was the first selection for the Cook the Books book group. This new book group reads a food related book and cooks food inspired by the book. I recommend La Cucina to any fans of food-related fiction, particularly fans of Like Water for Chocolate.