Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy

by Frances Mayes

Hardcover, 1996

Call number

945.5 MAY



Chronicle Books (1996), Edition: 1st, 288 pages


Biography & Autobiography. Travel. Nonfiction. HTML:#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER � The beloved memoir of self-discovery set against the spectacular Tuscan countryside that inspired the major motion picture starring Diane Lane�now in a twentieth-anniversary edition featuring a new afterword   �This beautifully written memoir about taking chances, living in Italy, loving a house and, always, the pleasures of food, would make a perfect gift for a loved one. But it�s so delicious, read it first yourself.��USA Today For more Frances Mayes, including a tour of her now iconic Cortona home, Bramasole, watch PBS�s Dream of Italy: Tuscan Sun Special!   More than twenty years ago, Frances Mayes�widely published poet, gourmet cook, and travel writer�introduced readers to a wondrous new world when she bought and restored an abandoned Tuscan villa called Bramasole. Under the Tuscan Sun inspired generations to embark on their own journeys�whether that be flying to a foreign country in search of themselves, savoring one of the book�s dozens of delicious seasonal recipes, or simply being transported by Mayes�s signature evocative, sensory language. Now with a new afterword from Frances Mayes, the twentieth-anniversary edition of Under the Tuscan Sun revisits the book�s most popular characters.… (more)

Media reviews

It was with considerable baggage that I recently revisited "Under the Tuscan Sun" this year, on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary, and discovered that my opinion of the book has grown ever so slightly more generous with age. This is not to say that I found the book free of flaws the second
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time around. For one, it contains virtually no narrative conflicts; each incident that could potentially cause tension gets resolved within paragraphs or, at most, a few pages. Will the villa’s previous owner sell to Frances and her partner, Ed? Yes, he will. Will a big pile of money needed to make the deal arrive by wire? Several paragraphs later, it does. Frances stubs her toe, to much consternation, and a few lines later Ed applies a Band-Aid... However I feel about Mayes and her privilege, and the marketing phenomenon that has flourished in her wake, there’s no denying that her prose brings Bramasole to life. When the workers begin to open up a wall between her living room and the kitchen, removing large stones, Mayes writes, “It’s the imagination that carries us through the stress of these projects. Soon we will be happy!” During a Christmas Day snowfall, while her daughter and a friend are visiting, she asks, “Is this much happiness allowed?”
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Jax450
The descriptions of food go on and on. Actually, the descriptions of EVERYTHING go on and on. They're not interesting or enchanting they are just words on a page. The main problems:

Mayes' tone is condescending (and that's being kind). She acts as if she discovered Cortona, villa renovation and
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fresh produce. Please! I kept hoping a big Tuscan stone would hit her on the head so she could acquire a new attitude. When you are in Italy, your problem is NOT that the people don't speak English but that you don't speak Italian!

I can't even describe the plot because there isn't one. Travel logs are fun, exciting, amusing; I didn't even crack a smile as I read about food, stones, food, Frances Mayes and food. So, she's a good cook. I got it already, no need to talk about it for 200+ pages.

Characters besides Mayes and her high opinion of herself are nonexistent; 280 pages - is Ed her husband, her boyfriend, her slave? Whatever, I don't even care anymore. I'd feel sorry for him if I could figure out who he is.

I could go on and on, but I'm not Frances Mayes so I won't.

My advice to her is to get over herself. My advice to a potential reader is to get over your impulse to read this book.
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LibraryThing member Deesirings
I got about halfway through this book and I've decided I don't even want to try to finish it, which is a rarity for me. It's far too descriptive of things that are dull to me and doesn't have enough about feelings and relationships or narrative or anything of interest to me. I was not enjoying it
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and then I got to a chapter of recipes and I just completely lost interest. Recipes? As part of the book I thought was intended to be read cover to cover? Really? Just does not work for me.
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LibraryThing member conceptDawg
I didn’t originally plan on reading this book after seeing the previews for the movie. Luckily, a friend of mine told me that I should read the book because he thought that I would enjoy it. He wasn’t wrong.

The movie is nothing like the book other than the fact that it takes place at a house in
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Tuscany. The book is not about a single woman trying to start a new life, but instead, about two married university professors who decide to take the plunge and buy a house in Tuscany.

The first half of the book is all about the search for the perfect house and the repairs and discovery that go on when they finally buy the house and work through making it livable. The second half of the book details the couple’s forays in the adjoining countryside and towns and what they experience living in Tuscany. In addition there are a couple of sections devoted specifically to Tuscan recipes for cooking.

I enjoyed the first half of the book a little more, mostly because I am interested in history and archaeology. Also, I’m in the middle of refinishing a house and can relate to some of the stuff that they go through in the book. The things that they found out about their new house, Bramasole, can only be expressed as “incredible” when you grow up in America. Apparently, though, if you grow up in the Tuscan countryside it is really a non-issue to find a Roman road going through your property. Apparently, it’s not a big deal to have Etruscan walls and wells dotting your land. Simply amazing.

The second half of the book is interesting for those who are more interested in travelling to Tuscany and learning of some out-of-the-way authentic places to see.

Give this book a look. You won’t be disappointed.
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LibraryThing member kirylin
This is one case where I loved the movie, but the book drove me up the wall. Someday, I'm going to experiment with the recipes, though.
LibraryThing member JulieQ
After traveling Italy for several years a couple buys a house and starts to remodel it to make it a summer home.

I did not care for this book. There were endless descriptions about the renovation, the preparation and cooking of Italian cuisine, and the landscape and their travels. All of which did
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not captivate me in the least. I didn't feel that there was a real story conveyed.
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LibraryThing member justine
A beautiful account of beginning a new life in a strange place.
LibraryThing member dcherubin
One of the most self-serving pieces of bad writing I have ever seen. You imagine that the entire time Mayes is in Tuscany, the locals are laugging at her pitiful attempts to be "real." I do not understand the popularity of this book.
LibraryThing member john257hopper
This captures the experience of life in Tuscany very well, the countryside, cuisine, city life, culture and history. A pleasant lightweight read between heavier books.
LibraryThing member bellamia
I couldn't even get past the first chapter. I don't know if it was her writing? I really enjoyed the movie but the book.....I just couldn't get into it.
LibraryThing member nmaloney
I liked this book, not loved it.
LibraryThing member abbeyhar
this woman is definitely more wealthy than the average professor, and a little full of herself, but somehow, despite the fact that this book barely had a plot, it was amazing. it was like being in italy.
LibraryThing member TheScrappyCat
I've been so perplexed by reading the negative reviews of this gorgeous book. Many people complain about Mayes's "condescending" attitude. "Overpriveleged", they say. Some gripe that Mayes seems to dislike the locals; others say there's too much about food, too many recipes.


I wonder. Are
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these people--maybe--just a bit jealous? Could that be the problem?

Regarding these issues, I finished this book a few days ago, and I did not see ANY of these problems. No doubt she and her husband have money; they could not have purchased and restored Bramasole if they did not. However I didn't see anything indicating she feels superior to anyone else. She seems to love the local people of Cortona; her neighbors are friends, the people of the village appear to welcome the Mayses when they arrive for the summers and holidays. Frances and Ed did not speak Italian when they purchased the house, but she talks about being able to communicate well enough with those who don't speak English, and it certainly seems they have learned enough Italian to at least get by.

Yes, there is some writing about food. Bramasole produces olives, grapes, and countless other fruits, vegetables, and herbs. She writes about how she learns how to use these items in her cooking, and yes, she shares some recipes. But it is in no way a cookbook. Food and wine are an essential part of daily living in Tuscany, so I think my question would be, why NOT write about it? Wouldn't you, in her place?

Frances Mayes's writing is sensual, as in, 'of the senses'. Reading this book, you can feel the warmth of the sun, you can smell the flowers, the herbs, the very air. You can see the greeny-silver olive trees, and the luscious changing peach tones of Bramasole itself.

I loved this book. I really loved it. To me, it was more about finding one's sense of self, one's sense of place in the world. I would never hesitate to recommend it to anyone. It's delicious.
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LibraryThing member paperdust
In the beginning, I was gearing up for what exciting adventures lay ahead and wonderfuly rich characters she would meet along the way...ah! it turned out to be the carpenter, the builder and the plumber. Redecorating efforts are rewarded with starry starry nights and organic utopia. The end was
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painful to read - when the author jotted down every single minute detail in her daily life. There are some nice poetic phrases: "I always have the odd and somber consciousness of how time peels us off...It's a deep wish of philoosphers and poets to search for theories on eternal return and time past being time present....how everything happens intensely even as it is disappearing." and "It is easy for foreigners to idealize, romanticize, stereotype, and oversimplify local people. Once the person is really known, of course, the characterization blessedly fades."

She writes about her appreciation for Italian art and history; I tried to follow but it's quite deep. Better if pictures were included to shed some light on the subject, eg. Etruscans, ancient artifacts, paintings, castle, church, tomb...even a little pic of her local piazza and valley would be nice. Highlight of the book was that paragraph on fig pollination and the death of the male wasp by sex.
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LibraryThing member birdsam0610
This book had been sitting on my bookshelf for some time. I’d won it in a competition and I’d enjoyed the movie. I knew that it wouldn’t be exactly like the movie, but venturing to Tuscany while commuting sounded like a pretty sweet deal.

After a couple of days, I couldn’t continue. I was
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sick of reading about banks and jumping into the middle of a group of barely explained characters (I don’t care if they are real- I don’t know them, therefore explain)! There was little description, just repetition of boring, self centred ramblings.
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LibraryThing member Othemts
A book in which an overpriviliged American buys a house in Italy, where everything is wonderful except for one thing: those pesky Italians. Her writing is unbearably snobbish, selfish, and arrogant. I was so angry I couldn't finish the book.
LibraryThing member mouse612
This book makes me hungry, every time I read it. Part travel narrative, part fish out of water--urban to rural, part food review and enjoyable, however if you approach this book with the expectation it will be like the movie, you will be disappointed. That said this book is one of my favorite
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armchair vacations.
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LibraryThing member bluepenguin1980
I visited Tuscany last spring and this book initially brought back great memories. I would've finished it, had it not been for the condescending, distracting tone of the writer. I remember one passage in particular, where she is selecting her contractors for the renovation. She alludes to how the
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older renovator 's behavior lets her know that he understands who the serf and who is the master... or something like that... Sorry, the pseudo-elitist crap is not who I identify with. That really spoiled it, and I didn't get much further in the book.
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LibraryThing member lowensby
Very romantic; and enjoyable. Story of a woman's search to become independent. Descriptions and characters very vivid.
LibraryThing member mayoung
Fascinated by the food, people, countryside, and lifestyle of the Italians, Mayes and her husband buy a broken-down farmhouse in Tuscany and devote themselves to its restoration.
LibraryThing member shejake
This book is a keeper. Unfortunately, I saw the movie first. It is hard to even recognize the story in the movie.
LibraryThing member TadAD
I expected a Tuscan version of A Year in Provence. It didn't quite live up to that standard.
LibraryThing member Mrs.Stansbury
I was captivated by the movie so wanted to read the book. Trust me on this the two have very little to do with each other. That being said the book had some merit. Very dry read but I learned some things about Italy's history and culture and had I been inclined to learn new recipes at the time I
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read the book I would have enjoyed several Tuscan dishes. Do not read as a travel memoir instead read this book only if you are prepared to read about fixing homes, traveling ruins, and eating and dining in Italy. Not quite a cohesive story but look at each chapter and you should find some enjoyment.
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LibraryThing member KMWeiland
This is one of those few books the beauty of which I just can’t over. Mayes’s attention to detail is thrillingly mouth-watering. Makes me want to drop everything and buy a house in Italy. It does wander a bit toward the end, but, all in all, this is darn near close to perfect.
LibraryThing member EmThomas
I'm sad to say that it has finally happened. I've finally stumbled upon the one book that pales in comparison with the movie that was made about it. I picked up Under The Tuscan Sun last week at my local book exchange; it was hidden in the small biography section, and I was pleased to see the
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title; the movie is one of my favorites, and having never read the book, I imagined that I was in for a real treat. Instead of the lovely story of a woman's first trip to Italy right after her divorce, the spontaneous purchase of a villa, falling in love and finding heartbreak, the secondary love story between Polish boy and Italian neighbor, and the American friend coming to have her baby, I turned the pages and became more and more baffled and frustrated. Under the Tuscan Sun the movie and Under the Tuscan Sun the book can't possibly have anything in common outside of the most basic and briefest scenes; i.e. the little old man who brings flowers to the shrine [and even then, she writes that she meets him in the park one day early on, and he says hello to her]. The book encompasses the tale of Frances and her equally American boyfriend, of many, many years, both professors on the west coast, traveling around Italy every summer, and finally settling on a summer house to buy after having looked in earnest for over 5 years. It talks about the renovations and the markets and the endless, mind numbing trips around the country. There is no Italian stallion boyfriend. There is not an American girl coming to have a baby. The Polish boy is a 14 year old slacker JERK and, as far as the book details, he never meets much less falls in love with the Italian girl neighbor. The blond filmstar makes a brief appearance, but is nothing like the character in the movie. Halfway through the book, I felt sure I was going to throw it across the room if I had to read the word Etruscan once more. I say this as a person who is totally enamoured of Italy, art, and history; this book made me completely ambivalent through sheer force of repetition and walls of words trying to capture every mundane detail. With my eyes glossing over the endless prattle, what a nasty surprise to feel like I have been lied to rather than delighted. Instead of "based on a true story" at the begining of the movie, it should have said "we took a boring book and made magic happen, with only the most bare basis in reality."
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LibraryThing member mrn945
I loved the movie version of the book, however I believe I enjoyed the book even more!

Ms. Mayes writes beautifully of the Tuscan scenery and food, so much that I was even more eager to be here! I've also added Cortona to my list of places to see. Next time!

I was amused by her discussion about the
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renovation of her Tuscan home, and the life she builds there. She writes to honestly and lyrically that I would probably read her grocery lists. Although apparently she doesn't make them in Italy.

I have however ordered the first of her follow-up memoirs, and will be placing it near the top of my TBR pile when I return home. Thus, whether you're in Italy or just thinking about it, this is a great memoir to get you dreaming!

On a side note, I broke my own cardinal rule about not dog-earing pages for the sole purpose of trying out her recipes when I get a kitchen. That's how good they looked.
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