This thought came to me as I was reading a book that’s partially set in Firenze, Italy and partially in a fantasy setting based on Firenze. Whenever I picked it up, I couldn’t help but think back on the, apparently, many books I’ve read that have taken place in Italy. I guess I really like Italy?
I’ve been once, a long time ago. My family took a tour through part of Europe and traveled through Venice, Milan, and Verona. I enjoyed most of it, but became mildly sea sick on the canals of Venice and almost drenched in Verona after baking in Venice and Milan. Since then, I’ve found myself periodically picking up books that take place all over Italy. I must have a thing for that country. Or maybe I just like pasta and reading about pasta. Maybe it’s time to make pasta for dinner again.
Anyways, I don’t want to bore you too much as I try to wax poetic about Italy (the love affair may have started in high school when I read The Divine Comedy and became drawn into the brief dramas of the families of Italy), so, without further ado, here is my list of books that have really transported me to Italy.
1. The Savage Garden by Mark Mills. This is about a university student who goes to Italy to study some Renaissance architecture in Tuscany. He stumbles upon a couple of mysteries while there that could potentially impact the family he is staying with. I picked up this book at random when I was studying abroad in Denmark and became so obsessed with it that I couldn’t stop re-reading it for at least a year afterwards. It still remains one of my favorite books. (Ignore the shark sticker. It didn’t come with the book; I just stuck it on myself.)
2. The Venice Atonement by Merryn Allingham. Set in the 1950s, it’s about a newly married woman, to a professor, who stumbles upon a mystery in Venice when she witnesses a death at the opera. I adored this book because, even though it’s set in the 1950s, so much of it was still recognizable to me and made me feel like I was walking around Venice again. I did have a good time wandering the city by myself for about an hour.
3. The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill. Not a mystery this time, but women’s fiction with a touch of mystery. I loved this book and the unlikely friendship formed between three very different women who meet at a charming, run down villa while on vacation from their lives. It’s not entirely set in Italy, but made me feel like I was stepping into Italy every time I picked up the book. It was beautiful and romantic.
4. Or What You Will by Jo Walton. This is the book that made me think up this post. It’s about an older author trying to, I guess, write her final book before her death. She’s got this unnamed figment(?) of her imagination in her head she converses with while writing her novel. This was a very different sort of book for me, but I really liked how focused it is on the Renaissance period. Other than some named places and landmarks, it doesn’t feel as magically Italian, but it does sound like Italy.
5. Freefall: A Divine Comedy by Lily Ilona MacKenzie. This one is about 4 women in their 60s who are rediscovering their friendship and finding a deeper understanding of themselves and each other. It’s partially set in Venice and made me feel like I was exploring the city all over again. I struggled to identify with characters who are 30 years older than me, but it was fun and made me feel like I was getting to know another side of Italy.
Well! Now I want to go back to Italy. Too bad the coronavirus makes that impossible. One day. One day I’ll go back, and I’ll get to bring along my family.
Where have you enjoyed traveling to through books?