BOOK REVIEW
The Lady in the Palazzo: At Home in Umbria
By Marlena de Blasi
Algonquin Books, 2006. 317 pages

The sequel to at least two other books, this one finds author dashing about Umbria looking for the home of her dreams or up to her arms in flour or shopping in Florence.

While the writing occasionally made this reviewer envious and while this reviewer happily, as an American woman, roots for the tough little lady who makes a life on her own terms and travels with a trunk of versatile fabric worthy of Scarlett O’Hara, she probably shouldn’t have checked this one out.

Just like an alcoholic taking the drink that will lead to a bender, she knew how she would feel afterwards, especially when she’s been there before and knows the pattern: “Foreigner” seeks mid-life change in Italy. Foreigner has confident but weak grasp of Italian (usually editors don’t check, but de Blasi is impeccable here). Foreigner gets mawkish over food. Foreigner encounters natives. Natives are both delightful and irritating, simple sibyls who reveal eternal truths that help foreigner discover self. Foreigner falls for improbable and problematic (a) dwelling and/or (b) Italian. Foreigner experiences epiphany; either (a) sudden surge of feeling integrated or (b) realization that he never will be. Readers read formula books, no matter how well written, because they are just that. But if you want Italy, the real thing, go somewhere else, like to Tim Parks.

Reviewed by Madeleine Johnson