Growing up in Sicily in the early 20th century, Rosa devotes herself to food: when her first love is murdered, she cooks; when her lover, l’Inglese, disappears, she cooks; when she is feeling lonely and sad, she cooks. With Rosa’s culinary skills, La Cucina is a tribute to the sumptuousness and sensuality of Sicilian cuisine.
Plot Overview: Love, Food and Loneliness
Rosa Fiore has led a life both farcical and tragic. She has seven brothers, two of whom, Guerra and Pace, are conjoined twins. Her father died when she was a child, and so she began cooking and baking to overcome her grief; her dishes helped feed her family through World War Two. At 18, her first love, Bartolomeo, was murdered by the mafia. Seeking solace, Rosa fled the family farm for Palermo, the capital of Sicily.
As years pass, Rosa relegates herself to a loveless, solitary life with few friends. Her kitchen, la cucina, becomes her home and her passion – at least until L’Inglese, a foreigner with a passion for Sicilian food, arrives. Together, Rosa and L’Inglese awaken their senses with delectable meals and passionate lovemaking. But when L’Inglese disappears, Rosa must return to the country and to her kitchen to deal with the loss.
Criticisms and Compliments
Lily Prior’s descriptions of Italian dishes in La Cucina are mouth-watering even as they’re educational, and cooking and baking appear erotic. For Rosa and L’Inglese, food is an aphrodisiac, a perfect ingredient for intimacy; however, their incorporation of entrées, such as spaghetti, into foreplay seems ridiculous at times.
Prior also awkwardly couples tragedy, such as the death of Rosa’s first lover and her ensuing loneliness, with the inane and quirky. Rosa’s mother, for example, takes on a number of lovers, eventually shooting one with a shotgun. Rosa’s conjoined twin brothers marry and have a child with a local prostitute. And finally, Rosa’s neighbor is an unapologetic Peeping Tom who thinks nothing of following Rosa’s movements in her apartment. La Cucina, at times, borders on the absurd.
While Prior dedicates her novel to Rosa and her life experiences, her most compelling – and incomplete – plot line lies with L’Inglese. He is an unappealing, mysterious fellow who disappears for days at a time with no explanation. He is vaguely connected to the mafia, though Rosa never discovers the truth, and his reasons for being in Italy are unclear. Had Prior given more explanation or focused more on L’Inglese’s background, La Cucina could have been a fantastic novel. As it stands, La Cucina is still an interesting, unusual read, but it lacks a certain momentum.
- Prior, Lily. La Cucina. Black Swan, 2000 ISBN 9780060953690