Only in Naples by Katherine Wilson

Only in Naples by Katherine WilsonOnly in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law by Katherine Wilson
Published by Random House on April 19, 2016
Pages: 304
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.
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In the tradition of M. F. K. Fisher and Peter Mayle, this enchantingly warm and witty memoir follows American-born Katherine Wilson on her adventures abroad, where a three-month rite of passage in Naples turns into a permanent embrace of this boisterous city on the Mediterranean. It is all thanks to a surprising romance, a new passion for food, and a spirited woman who will become her mother-in-law—and teach her to laugh, to seize joy, and to love.

I’m almost burned out on “expat in Italy” memoirs, I’ve read so many. I gave Katherine Wilson’s Only in Naples a chance, though, specifically because it takes place in an area other than Rome or Tuscany.

I loved the way she shared the Italian language throughout her book. Dialect and gestures are often overlooked in these types of memoirs, so it was a joy to read a bit of Neapolitan. And ahhh, that southern Italian hospitality, where you quickly and easily become part of their family! (I briefly talk about this in my review of Jennifer Criswell’s At Least You’re in Tuscany). Wilson definitely captures the passion and vitality of every person she meets.

Only in Naples is also about the author’s budding romance with the young man who eventually becomes her husband. It’s a sweet, realistic, honest account. She doesn’t gloss things over or romanticize things: If you don’t like Salva at first, stick with it, and keep an open mind about the cultural differences, all of which will be explained.

Speaking of honesty, Wilson doesn’t hesitate to share observations that might be considered unflattering. She talks about “creative reconstructions of reality” being the norm in Naples, and how proud an adult is when a child catches them in a lie. She shares her surprise over the anti-immigrant attitudes many Italians have toward people from North Africa, Asia, and poor areas of Eastern Europe. She also briefly touches on the state of the economy, especially as it negatively affects young adults. I would have liked her to go a little deeper on that topic; it’s an important aspect of Italian life.

Some of Wilson’s misadventures are a hoot (like her porn dubbing stint!). I liked that she shared some of the mystical/superstitious traditions she encountered. And if you like to cook, there are authentic recipes in the back of the book!

If you enjoy reading expat memoirs, I think you’ll especially enjoy Only in Naples thanks to its focus on southern Italy and Wilson’s entertaining, candid writing.

  • With its observations about the culture, this memoir sounds like more than just a narcissistic treatise on the author’s life (like other memoirs I’ve read). “Creative reconstructions of reality” is an interesting concept. I’m adding this memoir to my list.