July 5, 2013

At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life by Jennifer Criswell

I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley.

Description: At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life is Jennifer Criswell’s memoir about her first year in Montepulciano during which her dream of expat life meets the reality of everyday challenges and results in sometimes funny, often frustrating, always lesson-filled situations.

Jennifer Criswell’s move from New York City to Tuscany was not supposed to go like this. She had envisioned lazy mornings sipping espresso while penning a best-selling novel and jovial Sunday group dinners, just like in the movies and books about expatriate life in Italy. But then she met the reality: no work, constant struggles with Italian bureaucracy to claim citizenship through her ancestors, and, perhaps worst of all, becoming the talk of the town after her torrid affair with a local fruit vendor.

At Least You’re in Tuscany is the intimate, honest, and often hilarious tale of Jennifer’s first year in Montepulciano. During that time, her internal optimist was forced to work overtime, reminding her that if she were going to be homeless, lonely, and broke, at least she would be all those things—in Tuscany. Jennifer’s mantra, along with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, her willingness to embrace Italian culture, and lessons gleaned from small-town bumblings, help her not only build a new, rewarding life in Italy but also find herself along the way.

My Review: We've all seen the movies or read the books about expat life in Tuscany. After spending a few days there myself (enjoying the amazing food, gelato, wine, and art), I remember thinking, “It would be awesome to actually LIVE here.” But after spending extended periods of time in both Europe and South America studying abroad, I realized that expat life wouldn't be easy. As valuable as those travel experiences were, I was thankful that I was able to return home to my normal life in the U.S. afterward.

In her book, Criswell detailed both the highs and lows of her life in Italy. I appreciated how she painted a realistic picture of what it was actually like to move to a new country alone, establish citizenship, find work, and make friends. Criswell faced legal issues, language barriers, cultural differences, and a complete change in lifestyle. She went from being a sociable lawyer in New York City to being unemployed in a small town in Italy where everyone had their nose in each other’s business. She found herself the subject of gossip since after an affair with a local fruit vendor.

Despite the many difficulties she faced, Criswell was determined to make it work, and she kept her optimism and sense of humor through it all. I had to laugh when I read the scene where she accidentally freezes her duvet on the laundry line. The people she encounters in Italy are described in vivid detail, and they add more humor and heart to her story.

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever dreamed about moving to Tuscany--you can live vicariously through the author’s experiences. I enjoyed this honest and relatable memoir, and I would love to read more about Criswell’s new life in Italy.


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