At Least You’re in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell

Title: At Least You’re in Tuscany
Author: Jennifer Criswell
Publisher: Gemelli Press
Released: September 2012
Source: publisher (NetGalley)


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 group dinners, just like in the movies and books about expatriate life in Italy. Then she met 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, Jennifer’s 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.

Through all her small-town bumblings, though, Jennifer’s mantra, along with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and willingness to learn about Italian culture, helped her not only build a new, rewarding life in Italy but also find herself along the way.

I loved At Least You’re in Tuscany. Loved it! I lived in Italy as a kid, a few hours south of Montepulciano. I’ve been back once (13 years ago as a college student) and I admit I’ve since had dreams of returning as an expat. Jennifer Criswell acted on her dreams. With no specific plan and no job prospects, she packed up and moved to Italy with her Weimaraner.

All of the emotions that come with those first few days in a foreign country came through – I could feel Criswell’s exhaustion, pangs of homesickness, confusion, awe and excitement as if it were my own. I was moved by her description of how different it is to walk into town as a tourist compared to returning as a resident. She also wonderfully captures the old-world nature of small-town Italian life, how even in the 21st century, many things remain familial and very simple.

A couple of things surprised me. First, I didn’t realize Tuscans don’t like how they were portrayed in Under the Tuscan Sun. Now I want to reread that book – it’s been a long time – and keep that perspective in mind. Also, Criswell was told by a fellow expat that it is “impossible to make close friends with the Italians,” that you “won’t get past the front door.” I was completely surprised by this, because it wasn’t my experience at all. Criswell’s friend Anna does mention that Tuscans are “not like southerners,” who tend to get close. And I lived farther south, in the southernmost portion of Lazio. I was in my neighbors’ homes all the time. We’d often have dinner together, visit, walk through the garden, play together… it was as if the neighborhood was one huge family, and it started almost as soon as we moved in. When Criswell felt lonely, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sad about this difference.

Criswell has a talent for vividly describing her experiences, getting all of your senses excited about this Italian adventure (at one point in the book, I was seriously craving prosciutto!). She has also given her readers a very honest picture of what it’s like to be an expat in Italy – not only the wonderful experiences you may dream of when you think of moving to a different country, but also the very real challenges of finding employment, learning the language, and trying to fit in with the locals. I often thought about how immigrants here in the States must feel, especially on the language front.

Speaking of language, the smattering of Italian throughout the book was just delightful. I speak Italian, and still learned a few new phrases! I remembered having many of the same difficulties she did, especially when trying to understand older Italians, who often speak in their dialect.

At Least You’re in Tuscany is written with a warm, comfortable tone that makes it a delight to read. Fellow Italophiles, you must read this book! Whether you’ve been to Italy or not, I guarantee you will love it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.

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