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"La cucina is the heart of the fattoria, and has formed the backdrop to the lives of our family, the Fiores, as far back as, and further than, anyone can remember. This kitchen has witnessed our joys, griefs, births, deaths, nuptials, and fornications for hundreds of years.
Even now the ghosts of our forebears gather in the kitchen, sitting around like old friends, participating in discussions and passing judgment on the activities of the living.
La cucina bears the scents of its past, and every moment in its history is recorded with an olfactory memorandum. Here vanilla, coffee, nutmeg, and confidences; there the milky-sweet smell of babies, old leather, sheep's cheese, and violets. In the corner by the larder hangs the stale tobacco smell of old age and death, while the salty scent of lust and satiation clings to the air by the cellar steps along with the aroma of soap, garlic, beeswax, lavender, jealousy, and disappointment."
For Rosa Fiore, the kitchen in her family's farmhouse in the Alcantara valley on the island of Sicily has been a haven since childhood. It was in the cucina that she found solace, cooked and captured bittersweet memories of her overpowering mother, hapless father, six older brothers, and younger Siamese twin siblings.
When her first lover, Bartolomeo, was murdered, Rosa retreated into her cucina, and later to the city of Palermo. She remained there for twenty-five years, working as a librarian at the Biblioteca Nationale by day and cooking sumptuous meals alone in her small apartment at night. But her solitude ended when a mysterious Englishman, known only as L'Inglese, arrived at the Biblioteca claiming to be a scholar researching the history of Sicilian cuisine.
L'Inglese beseeches Rosa to instruct him in the ways of Sicilian cooking, and they embark on a journey of exquisite sensual and sexual awakening in the heat of a glorious summer. Their passion for the culinary arts is rivaled only by their hunger for each other, and l'Inglese brings out the essence of Rosa's beauty in a way she never imagined. "We had both learned our lessons." Rosa says, "l'Inglese had become skilled in the arts of the Sicilian kitchen, and I, the librarian, had learned what it is to love and be loved by a man. What a banquet of the senses it had been."
When l'Inglese suddenly disappears, Rosa returns to Castiglione to mend her broken heart in the cocoon of her beloved cucina. There she makes new discoveries about her loved ones and herself.
Lily Prior spins a bewitching tale about the mysteries of love and the joy and sorrow of family. A tribute to culinary delights and the countryside of Italy, La Cucina celebrates romance and passion in an unexpected and unforgettable way.
Questions for Discussion
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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