L'America

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In the brilliant Greek sunshine of a small Aegean island, Beth and Cesare meet—beginning a transformative love affair that spans two continents, two decades, and two lifetimes. Cesare is a privileged Italian boy, raised in a prosperous town where his family has lived for five hundred years; Beth, an ambitious American dreamer born to hippies and raised on a commune. The events of September 11 serve as a catalyst for the unfolding of their story, in which passion struggles ...

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Overview

In the brilliant Greek sunshine of a small Aegean island, Beth and Cesare meet—beginning a transformative love affair that spans two continents, two decades, and two lifetimes. Cesare is a privileged Italian boy, raised in a prosperous town where his family has lived for five hundred years; Beth, an ambitious American dreamer born to hippies and raised on a commune. The events of September 11 serve as a catalyst for the unfolding of their story, in which passion struggles against the inexorable force of patria.

The novel of the American in Europe has a long and lustrous pedigree. L’America adds to this lineage, an evocative portrait of the intersection between Europe and America, the old and the new, and the dizzying, life-changing power of first love.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR L’AMERICA

"Exquisitely romantic, exquisitely sad, this very contemporary love story relates the classic tale of the American abroad in its own haunting voice."—THE BOSTON GLOBE

"McPhee is a brilliant stylist, and here she creates characters so palpably real, they seem to ache on the page."—THE WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD

Caroline Leavitt
L'America is a heartbreaker of a book about everyday people made extraordinary by love. Sensuous and evocative, it's best summed up in the last line: "ordinary people engaged in ordinary lives that amount to everything."
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
A soft clash of civilizations disrupts romance in this rapturous but socially acute fable of cross-class love. Sojourning in Europe, 18-year-old Beth, raised by her hippie father on a Pennsylvania commune, finds her polar opposite in Cesare, handsome scion of a 500-year-old Italian banking dynasty. For the motherless Beth, Cesare represents the allure of rootedness and gracious traditions. For Cesare, straitjacketed by family, class expectations and a prospective banking career he dreads, Beth represents America's wide-open possibilities, headquartered at her father's egalitarian but entrepreneurial commune, a refuge for dreamers of all stripes seeking to reinvent themselves. Besotted as they are with each other, Beth and Cesare find themselves drawn apart-Cesare back to the comforting confines of his hometown, Beth to New York, where her idea of home is a succession of illegal sublets and where she commercializes her love of Italy by writing cookbooks and starting restaurants. McPhee's lush, erotically charged prose evokes their erotic obsession-and the glamorous Old World locales where it blossoms-but, as in her well-received family sagas Bright Angel Time and Gorgeous Lies, McPhee's real subject is the larger forces that shape individual lives and passions. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"The sort of smart, passionate, all-consuming, impossible love affair that is both breathtakingly sensual, shockingly selfish, and, finally, bafflingly cruel."

Library Journal
Beth is the adored only child of a Pennsylvania hippie commune leader who spends his whole life grieving over the death of his young wife when Beth was two. Cesare is the son of an ancient Italian banking family whose 500-year-old history dictates that he follow in the footsteps of 19 generations of bankers. When they fall in love in Greece in the Eighties (he is 24 and she just 18), they don't yet know that they don't stand a chance. Year after year, their love and diametrically opposed fates both nourish and torture them; sacrifices of geography, career ambitions, and familial ties deep-six all efforts at compromise or peaceful acceptance of their irreconcilable differences. Theirs is the sort of smart, passionate, all-consuming, impossible love affair that is both breathtakingly sensual, shockingly selfish, and, finally, bafflingly cruel. In her third novel (after Bright Angel Time and Gorgeous Lies), McPhee draws the reader into the lives of this irresistibly spirited, intensely determined couple even though we know by page 12 that their love is doomed. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
McPhee (Gorgeous Lies, 2002) uses the star-crossed, cross-Atlantic affair of a young American woman and her Italian lover to muse on questions of national character and the power of history in individual lives. Cesare grew up surrounded by wealth and family history in the Italian city where his ancestors have prospered for 500 years. Beth was raised unconventionally, first in a Pennsylvania commune begun by her eccentric father, then in her equally eccentric maternal grandmother's Manhattan apartment. In 1982, Beth and Cesare meet while Beth is traveling in Europe before college. They fall rapturously in love, their passions enhanced by the attraction each feels for the other's culture. Having learned through Cesare to speak, eat and dress Italian, Beth is often mistaken for an Italian later in life. For Cesare, who is in love with America from afar, particularly American literature, Beth is L'America. But Cesare is tied to his family's heritage and to its expectations. Although Beth persuades him to visit her in America while she is studying at NYU, his future is already decided, and he lacks the will-or perhaps the desire-to change course. He recognizes that he is bound to his personal past in ways Beth is not. The more adventurous Beth stays in Italy for long stretches but ultimately cannot give up America and the ambitions she has been raised to pursue. She begins to view Cesare's unwillingness to leave his family as a kind of laziness. Gradually, their relationship sours, then peters out. Each marries someone else, but they still long for each other until Beth dies in the World Trade Center bombing on 9/11. The author's scattershot approach-she eschews a linear plot line-is initiallydistracting, then merely annoying. Ambitious and literate but also off-putting-everyone lives in a rarified atmosphere, the Americans as well as the Italians.
Laura Fraser - author of An Italian Affair
"The sort of smart, passionate, all-consuming, impossible love affair that is both breathtakingly sensual, shockingly selfish, and, finally, bafflingly cruel."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156032360
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/9/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha McPhee

MARTHA McPHEE’s novel Gorgeous Lies was a National Book Award Finalist. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She teaches at Hofstra University and lives in New York.

Good To Know

A large portion of McPhee's family all had books published in the fall of 2002. McPhee reports, "Of all of them I am in awe. The list includes my husband, Mark Svenvold's Elmer McCurdy: The Life and Strange Afterlife of an American Outlaw (Basic Books), my sister Jenny McPhee's paperback of her first novel The Center of Things (Ballantine Books); my half-sister Joan Sullivan's memoir An American Voter: My Love Affair with Presidential Politics (Bloomsbury); my father John McPhee's 25th book of nonfiction, The Founding Fish (FSG); my sister Sarah McPhee's work of art historical research, Bernini and the Belltowers: Architecture and Politics of the Vatican (Yale University Press).

While McPhee's father John is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, McPhee told us that "my mother has always wanted to be a writer, and indeed believes the gene is hers. When my little sister, Joan, product of my mother and stepfather, finished her first and beautiful book, my mother declared it proof the gene was hers."

One of McPhee's first jobs was as a caterer for wealthy Park Avenue New Yorkers. "I could write a sort of Nanny Diaries about the famous literati that I fed and served," she confides, "but for the meantime I'll be silent."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 25, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Bowdoin College, 1987; M.F.A., Columbia University, 1994

Read an Excerpt

L'America


By McPhee, Martha

Harcourt

Copyright © 2006 McPhee, Martha
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0151011710

Campanilismo

Above the party a beautiful young man rises into a cloud. As he looks to the sky, a girl with black hair curled at her ears reaches toward him, as if to pull him back. He is naked, exquisite, revealing the entirety of what is being lost to her. His right hand, enveloped by the faint tracings of a claw (perhaps an eagle's but this is debatable), disappears into the cloud, and only the girl is aware--her upturned face lit by sun. She wears a beige silk gown with a dark brown velvet princess bodice bordered with small pearls, which hugs her full breasts; a pillbox cap snugly rests on the crown of her head. The full gown flutters slightly with her movement, her desperate step toward the sky. Rose tints flush her cheeks and a solemnity haunts her eyes. At the edge of a hill thick with flowering rhododendrons and azaleas, the party carries on around her. Girls in long velvet gowns cluster together like bouquets, coquettish turns to their pretty lips, awaiting the adoration of all the various men, men in velvet pants and elaborate vests brocaded and beaded with pearls and gems. With long curling hair flowing like the capes that drape their backs, they are as handsome and gay as the girls. The colors are rich and deep, burnt sienna and royal peacock blue and gold and golden greens and whites the color of the sky. Couples whisper sweet gossip, though no one yet knows that she is in love with him, except for him. And what is to become of her, of that love, overwhelming and futile? If you look closely, you can see her love fairly palpitating, throbbing under the swell of her breast, all fury and tenderness. The party unfolds at the edge of a town over which looms the bell tower of an imposing church, perched high above one of those cool northern Italian lakes. The party celebrates the flowering rhododendrons and azaleas and the completion of Fiori, the Cellini country house to which these flowering bushes belong. "May they flower for at least a thousand years," Signor Cellini might have said. He is there somewhere among the guests, the father of the lovelorn girl. Time is expansive like that. Fifteen hundred years have elapsed since Augustus ruled the world. A lute player plucks the strings of his instrument, perhaps the bells of the bell tower toll. The beautiful young man touches the cloud in all his glory. A wide ribbon runs diagonally across the girl's chest and on the ribbon in a swirling playful script of gold is the name of the artist who painted this fresco--Benvenuto Cellini.

He was nineteen years old, born in 1500, the age of the year, and had recently been banished from Florence for a second time for one of his many quarrels, the result of his proud and cocky temper. He had never painted a painting before, much less a fresco, and he never would again. He had sketched, he had practiced with paint and tempera, but his interest was in sculpture, working with bronze and on occasion gold. He thought painting an inferior art. A sculpture, unlike a painting, could be looked at from eight different angles and thus had to be perfect from eight different perspectives. But he had fun with this fresco. He made it for the girl, Valeria Cellini, his cousin and his love, too. It was Cellini family lore (you know the way that families have their myths, the stories that lend them importance and carve their place in history) that she would not have followed him even had he let her. She would not have left behind her family and her town--brave girl, she was the symbol of family loyalty and resilience. Of all the Cellini daughters, twenty generations of them, she was the first and she alone remained untouched by time and change: five hundred years old, perpetually beautiful and young, captured as if in amber while the other daughters of the Cellini line (the nineteen who followed her) had married and vanished into the myths of other families. The action Valeria would have taken, could have taken, didn't take, remains frozen in that one instant of after and before, frozen the way art can freeze something, after love and before all the potential of life. Valeria was fifteen years old.

Benvenuto danced into town, escaping Florence, to stay with his uncle Cesare Cellini in the town of Citta in the foothills of the Alps. He stayed the summer of 1519. He stayed until he became well acquainted with the town and his uncle's friends and family. He stayed until he fell in love, until the shy half smile igniting Valeria's pale rose-tinted face flowered into something more complete. He stayed until he grew restless, impatient, bored even by romance. Then he left, traveled north to Switzerland, turned south and went to Rome, the city of his dreams, where a wealthy woman became his patron and where he stayed until he had the courage to return to the city that had exiled him but to which he unequivocally belonged. By then Valeria had faded to an insignificant detail, erased by the fullness and bravado of his biography.

In Citta, though, he stayed long enough for Valeria to be seduced by hope, the depths of hope, its deep recesses and its wells, and to find himself basking in it, too, though they both knew that he was incapable of staying forever (that deceptive word) and that he would never have taken her away with him and that she would never have left. That is what she had loved about him, that from the beginning she knew their time together would not last. That was the draw, the pull, the urgency behind the love--the desire to conquer the impossible. The "if only" at that love's core, the "if only" triumphing to become all. But art trumped and Benvenuto left Citta and he left Valeria and he left, as well, the story in the fresco, a token of his gratitude, an ode and a bow to exquisite pain.

For a long time, 453 years to be exact, the fresco remained in the dining room of Fiori, the villa in the hills above Lago Maggiore, thirty kilometers outside of Citta. It presided over parties and dinners and the ordinary family meals of twenty generations of Cellinis (Sunday dinners of polenta and uccellini, tiny birds with bones as delicate and tasty as marrow, shot by the Cellini husbands in the estate's bird arbor) until Giovanni Paolo Cellini and his wife, Elena, at great expense, had the fresco removed and restored and fronted by protective glass and rehung in the more tempered environment of their Citta villa. Humidity (the enemy of frescoes everywhere) was eating the lime plaster and corrupting the pigment, slowly devouring the picture, and the Cellinis wanted to save it. They wanted it to last. For twenty generations it had survived. Giovanni Paolo Cellini, a short elderly man (he had his first child at fifty) with a halo of white hair and a missing hand disguised by a stiff black leather glove that endowed him with the aspect of a laborer rather than the banker that he was, would not allow the fresco to die on his watch. Elena, tall, thin, dark-haired, big-eyed, good wife, wouldn't either. Through the centuries the job of the Cellini wives had been to preserve the Cellini family's rituals and customs, and Elena well understood her role. So in the 1970s, when Elena and Giovanni Paolo's son was a teenager, the elaborate process of separating the fresco from the wall (digging out and destroying a good foot of plaster and stucco behind the picture) was undertaken.

Young Cesare was all but oblivious to this exercise. He was a boy caught up in history, studying Latin and Ancient Greek at the Liceo Classico. He read Aeschylus in the original yet preferred the comedies of Aristophanes because he liked to laugh and make others laugh. His little sister, Laura, had this same love of laughter, but she went even further. A funny little girl with thick curly white-blond hair, the source of which eluded everyone, Laura's ambition was to one day become a clown. Three years younger than Cesare, Laura already knew who she was and what she wanted, and one day she would run away to clown school in Switzerland; but that's later, much later.

Copyright © 2006 by Martha McPhee

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.


Continues...


Excerpted from L'America by McPhee, Martha Copyright © 2006 by McPhee, Martha. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2011

    Beautiful...highly recommended

    The best love story I have ever read. Beautiful, deep and tragic. L'America is not your run of the mill love story. Truly touching, this story will remain with you long after you've read the final paragraph.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2006

    Very disappointing...unfortunately

    When I read the 'back of the book blurb' I was quite excited to read this book. I was looking for a tragic love story, and this one sounded just perfect. From page one I should have stopped reading, but I wanted to give the book a chance because some of the sentences were quite lovely. Unfortunately, I read all the way through the book, and was left disappointed and very unsatisfied. I felt that the main characters passionate love affair didnt have much chemistry- there was something quite unbelievable about it. The writing style was not so much confusing as it was all over the place from paragraph to paragraph with no structure whatsoever. I would have enjoyed it much more if the story didnt constantly skip time periods so randomly. I would not recommend that anyone read this book-there are so many other better choices out there that I wouldnt waste my time.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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