Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**     = Enjoyable
*       = Good, with reservations

****Ripe for the Picking

by Annie Hawes

Reviewed September 1, 2003.
Penguin Books, London, 2003.  374 pages.
Not yet available in America.
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #1, Cross-Cultural Nonfiction

I was delighted when Steve’s coworker Verlie offered to loan me the sequel to Annie Hawes’ Extra Virgin.  I read Extra Virgin before I started writing Sonderbooks, but it’s one of my favorite moving-into-a-foreign-culture books.  I looked for Ripe for the Picking on Amazon, but didn’t find it.  It turns out that Verlie bought it in the United Kingdom, but I’m sure it will eventually come out in America and I’ll be able to get it for the library, so I’m going to go ahead and review it while it’s fresh on my mind.

Ripe for the Picking isn’t quite as laugh-out-loud funny as Extra Virgin, but it does have some choice moments.  British Annie Hawes tells the story of moving to a tiny, isolated house in Liguria along with her sister in Extra Virgin.  Now her sister is off in Eastern Europe, and she has taken up with a local man, Ciccio.

Having Ciccio living with her adds a whole new dimension to her belonging to the village.  When his mamma finds out, Annie becomes one of the family, and has a whole new set of obligations and privileges.

One of my favorite chapters is the one where Annie accompanies Ciccio’s sister Annetta to Rome to take some major exams.  She is appalled when she discovers Annetta working over a series of cheat sheets she bought at a university bookstore.  Annetta explains that everyone does it, and Annie comes to believe it’s true when an entire train car of Italians starts reminiscing about their own school days and where they would hide their cheat sheets.  Since one of those Italians was a doctor, Annie gets a new appreciation of why Italians don’t trust their doctors!  The group has no sympathy when Annie tries to explain the attitude toward cheating in Britain.  They find it deplorable that a teacher would be willing to fail his own student.

Later, at a youth hostel, Annie tries to keep Annetta from letting some American students see her cheat sheets.  When they realize what she’s doing, they give her the cold shoulder.  Annetta doesn’t understand their attitude at all.

In this book, Annie Hawes does a beautiful job of showing us Italian culture from much closer to the inside, but still with an outsider’s perspective.  She’s a true member of the village now, but she still can see things with a sparkle of humor and an appreciation that “how things are done” depends on where you are from.

This is a delightful book.  If you haven’t read Extra Virgin yet, pick up a copy from Amazon or from the library to read while you’re waiting for this one to come out in America.

Link to Extra Virgin on Amazon

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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