The Gypsy Tearoom by Nicky Pellegrino

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The Gypsy Tearoom by Nicky Pellegrino

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: An enchanting look at the way of life in a small Italian town, brought to life with fabulous descriptions of the scenery and the food. Unrequited love and a hearty helping of lust keep the story going strong throughout.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 978-0752873626

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Raffaella, a fisherman's daughter, has spent her life living among the fishes at the bottom of the hill. When she marries into the wealthy Russo family she moves up in the world, literally, and starts a new life for herself and her husband in the town at the summit. But when the unthinkable happens and her husband dies suddenly, she is left to fend for herself. As she increasingly becomes the subject of the sort of malicious gossip that comes with small town life, Raffaella is at a bit of a loose end, and jumps at the chance of a job as housekeeper and cook at a nearby summer home. While there, she meets the handsome "Americano", Eduardo, who has been brought in by the local priests to erect a magnificent statue reminiscent of, and set to rival, Rio's cliff-top affair. This statue is set to divide the town's residents, and Raffaella's own family, and tensions soon being to mount as the project begins. But, as she goes about the day to day chores of her new life, Raffaella soon realises that there's a whole other world out there that, until now, she has been oblivious to. Uncovering tales of deceit, mystery, murder, lust and lost loves, she begins to realise the struggles she is facing are not too different from those of her friends and neighbours.

The story has some magnificent settings, taking place in a town with so much character and, indeed, so many characters, that it's hard not to get lost in the piazzas and pizzerias that make up Raffaella's world. Baker Silvana, newly widowed herself, forms an unlikely alliance with the young girl and Raffaella is soon aiding and abetting her in her quest to rekindle an old flame. Ciro, owner of The Gypsy Tearoom, offers her a shoulder to cry on, but doubts about his intentions soon lead to disaster for him and his business. Raffaella's in-laws, the Russos, and clearly identified as the villains of the story through their hurtful actions and accusations, while Carlotta and Umberto, Raffaella's colleagues at the summer house remain champions for the young widow, supporting her in her transition to her new role in the town. All in all, it's a colourful array of characters, many with complicated histories and complex feelings, who carry Raffaella through the story, and provide some amusement of their own along the way.

By far the greatest selling point of this book as far as I'm concerned are the fabulous descriptions of the food that form a large part of the story, from the quickly snatched pizzas at The Gypsy Tearoom to the fresh groceries picked up at the town market to the hearty meals Raffaella serves up to her guests. The descriptions are delicious to the extent that you could be reading a cookery book and looking at mouth-watering pictures of finished creations. If ever there were a need to advertise the country and cuisine of Italy to the wider world, this book would well serve the purpose.

I found it odd, though, that the author made Raffaella such a startling beauty because her looks are what you forget first when thinking about the character, and it's only when another makes a comment about her being a flirt who seduces the men of the town that you're reminded that she's supposed to be so stunning. The Raffaella I remember from the book is much more than simply an attractive girl, and I recall her imagination, intuition and determination above all else.

There are so many similarities between this book and Antony Capella's The Food of Love that it would seem remiss not to mention it. Indeed both books revolve around the same three themes - amazing food, stunning Italian scenery and unrequited love. Both books take a different stance though, in part due to the sex of their authors, and this is a much more girly book with flowery, floaty images than the other is. The extend to which the descriptions in The Gypsy Tearoom are so flowery did make the book drag at times as there was just too much description and not enough action. But, at the one point at which I was really beginning to switch off, the author threw a fabulous curve-ball in the shape of an illegitimate child, and promptly reeled me straight back in.

I would recommend this book for when you have time to sit down and really get into it, because some of the threads running through it do require patience and one's full attention to get to grips with. It would be a perfect beach book, or one to read when you have a weekend to spend curled up in bed, but isn't that easy to dip in and out of. It's not a book you can skim read quickly because of the confusing themes and the smattering of Italian language, but when you have time to devote to reading, this is certainly a book to pick up and enjoy. Definitely one for fans of the aforementioned book The Food of Love, and all those who love Italy.

My thanks to the publishers for sending this book.

Booklists.jpg The Gypsy Tearoom by Nicky Pellegrino is in the Top Ten Beach Reads For Girls.

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