Thursday, December 31, 2009


100. Keeping House: a novel in recipes, by Clara Sereni (Translated from the Italian by Giovanna Miceli Jeffries and Susan Briziarelli)

The title of this book in the original Italian is "Casalinghitudine", a word for which there is no English equivalent. It combines "casalinga", homemaker, with the noun ending also found in "abitudine" (habit), "solitudine" (solitude) and "negritudine" (negritude). It could perhaps be described as the embracing with pride, and from a feminist standpoint, of those things that are perceived as constituting "keeping house".

Cooking and food, for Sereni, represent a form of caring. The recipes here are placed in conjunction with events in the narrator's life, from her childhood, raised mostly by a grandmother and aunts, through her youth and involvement in radical politics, to her marriage and motherhood. Her relationship with food also reflects her relationship with her father, a journalist, politician and member of the Italian Communist Party, who also wrote about the history of food in Italy (a quotation from one work of his in fact ends this book).

In the recipes (many of which I have copied down to try), we find patience, love, complexity and simplicity, exactness and improvisation, like life.

I found this book quite engrossing, perhaps because I am of an age with Sereni and, albeit in the U.S., share some political experiences with her. I do think that readers with at least some knowledge of Italian culture and recent political history will be better able to appreciate this book than those who don't.

Read more about Clara Sereni.

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