Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Books Read: Nicky Pellegrino - When in Rome

Rome in the 1950s, there's nowhere quite like it. The narrow stone streets, the fountains and piazzas full of life in the heat of the day, the cafes and bars full of music and desire by night...

This is where Serafina calls home. Having grown-up with her sisters in a tiny apartment tucked in the top of a tumbledown building, she has watched her mother get by on next to nothing, and turn herself beautiful with a sweep of eyeliner and a hand-sewn dress.

When her mother goes out, Serafina and her sisters go singing in the nearest piazza, busking for spare change and cinema tickets. The girls long to meet their matinee idols and Serafina daydreams of Mario Lanza and his spellbinding voice. But the sisters will grow up quickly and for Serafina, a choice opens between the world she knows and the life she dreams of.

A picture tells a thousand words and that's certainly true of the faded picture of a young girl and a handsome man that's on the wall in an old peoples home.  The old woman in the room starts to reminisce of a time gone by when she first met that handsome man called Mario Lanza...

Set in the 1950s When in Rome tells the story of Serafina who lives in a small apartment with her mother and two younger sisters, Carmela and Rosalina, who she looks after whilst her mother is out 'working' in the local bars.  Serafina knows that it is expected that now that she is an adult she will become a working girl like her mother but she wants more for herself.

Serafina has always had a crush on the handsome singer Mario Lanza so when she hears that he's coming to Italy to make a movie, she decides that she's going to try and meet him.  Her sister Carmela sees this as a chance to make a name for herself as a singer, instead of singing for tips in the local squares, as she's convinced that if Mario hears her sing he'll get her a role in the film.

But it's Serafina not Carmela who ends up working for Mario and his family, as his wife's personal assistant, meaning that she gets to see first hand that his seemingly perfect life is not quite as perfect as it seems... instead she gets to see the very unhappy side effects that fame had on his life.

Although When in Rome is a work of fiction it's clear to see that Nicky Pellegrino has clearly done a lot of research into the life of Mario Lanza, and in the acknowledgements she does talk about interviewing his daughter to find out about him, which enables her to weave his story so effortlessly into her story. I enjoyed learning about a singer that I'd previously heard of but didn't really know a lot about.

But it was the descriptive writing of the Rome streets, that made me wish I could explore them, but most of all the descriptions of the gorgeous food that chef Pepe prepared for Mario, that I wished I could taste, that I really enjoyed reading.  

Despite having several of Nicky Pellegrino's older books in my TBR pile, When in Rome is the first book of hers that I've actually read and I'll certainly be digging them out to read sooner rather than later.

I'd like to thank Orion for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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