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La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture

La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture

4.0 10
by Lily Prior

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Since childhood, Rosa Fiore — daughter of a sultry Sicilian matriarch and her hapless husband — found solace in her family's kitchen. La Cucina, the heart of the family's lush estate, was a place where generations of Fiore women prepared sumptuous feasts and where the drama of extended family life was played out around the age-old table.



Since childhood, Rosa Fiore — daughter of a sultry Sicilian matriarch and her hapless husband — found solace in her family's kitchen. La Cucina, the heart of the family's lush estate, was a place where generations of Fiore women prepared sumptuous feasts and where the drama of extended family life was played out around the age-old table.

When Rosa was a teenager, her own cooking became the stuff of legend in this small community that takes pride in the bounty of its landscape and the eccentricity of its inhabitants. Rosa's infatuation with culinary arts was rivaled only by her passion for a young man, Bartolomeo, who, unfortunately, belonged to another. After their love affair ended in tragedy, Rosa retreated first into her kitchen and then into solitude, as a librarian in Palermo. There she stayed for decades, growing corpulent on her succulent dishes, resigned to a loveless life.

Then, one day, she meets the mysterious chef, known only is I'Inglese, whose research on the heritage of Sicilian cuisine leads him to Rosa's library, and into her heart. They share one sublime summer of discovery, during which I'lnglese awakens the power of Rosa's sensuality, and together they reach new heights of culinary passion. When I'Inglese suddenly vanishes, Rosa returns home to the farm to grieve for the loss of her second love. In the comfort of familiar surroundings, among her, growing family, she discovers the truth about her loved ones and finds her life transformed once more by the magic of her cherished Cucina.

Exuberant and touching, La Cucina is a magical evocation of lifes mysterious seasons and the treasures found in each one. It celebrates family, food, passion, and the eternal rapture of romance.

Editorial Reviews

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The subtitle of La Cucina is "A Novel of Rapture," and it couldn't be more appropriate. A Sicilian Like Water for Chocolate, Lily Prior's debut novel is a celebration of food and love, the tale of a brokenhearted librarian who comforts herself (and tantalizes her neighbors!) with her culinary delights after the loss of her first love. In Rosa's competent, sensual hands, even the simplest culinary tasks, such as rolling out pasta dough, become earthy, erotic labors of love. Rosa slaves over the kitchen table, working herself into a frenzy as she heaves her Rubenesque body up and down, back and forth, akin to -- well, we won't go into that here. But one day an Inglese (Brit) named Randolph Hunt wanders into the dark chamber of Rosa's archive, researching the history of Sicilian cuisine and stirring the ashes of her heart. A sweet chemistry transpires, but with Rosa's snoop of a landlady watching closely, the two lovebirds must exercise caution. They conspire to see each other clandestinely, and Rosa begins giving l'Inglese cooking lessons with ecstatic results -- until Randolph disappears like the froth on a cappuccino! Grieving alone for her second lost love, Rosa retreats to her beloved family cucina for solace and is treated to a magical surprise. La Cucina's exuberant, witty prose will tickle the senses of even the most buttoned-up reader -- who'll be sniffing the pages hoping for a lingering aroma of the fragrant inspirations created by Rosa with love and tenderness. (Winter 2001 Selection)
Valerie Martin
A wonderful novel; a festival of life and all its pleasures, bursting with passion and extravagant color. Similar in some ways to Like Water for Chocolate, this novel celebrates love, the family, the body and food with a joyous, hopeful exuberance.”(Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and Blackberry Wine
Succulent saga...with a sensuous tone, a folkloric narrative style and a most original set of characters, LA CUCINA could well satisfy the hungriest of appetites.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Sumptuously appointed, celebratory and sensuous, this debut novel is a mouth-watering blend of commedia dell'arte and Greek tragedy. Prior cooks up a cinematic yarn full of characters so rich you'll fear they're fattening, but readers will be sure to splurge on this saucy tale chock full of sex, recipes and murder. Born in 1915, Rosa Fiore grows up on the family farm in the Sicilian village of Castiglione with six older brothers and her younger Siamese twin siblings, Guera and Pace (war and peace). Her childhood is punctuated by her parents' frequent lovemaking and the "disappearances" orchestrated by the local Mafiosi. Rosa spends most of her time in what is really the core of the family, la cucina, the kitchen, which is the outlet for all Rosa's passions except one, her lover, Bartollomeo. After he is murdered when she is 18, she flees to the big city of Palermo. There she becomes a librarian, abstaining from the pleasures of cooking and love for 25 years. One day, a mysterious Englishman named Randolph Hunt comes into the library, claiming to be researching the regional cuisine of Rosa's youth. She calls him simply l'Inglese. Reawakening her dormant spirit, l'Inglese initiates Rosa into the world of sexual and gastronomic abandon. But along with love comes risk of pain. When l'Inglese mysteriously "disappears," can the Mafia be involved? Ironic humor, fantastical subplot twists, attention to touching detail in setting and tone and a delightful gift for characterization make this sexy black comedy an award-winning recipe for pleasure. The combination of sex and food will undoubtedly invite comparisons with Like Water for Chocolate and 8U Weeks. Add a dash of Goodfellas, and there's something for everyone. Agent, Jean Naggar. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Rosa Fiore, a middle-aged, overweight Italian librarian in Palermo, spends a quarter of a century furiously, exquisitely cooking away memories of the tragic murder of her first and only lover, Bartollomeo, whose throat was slit by his own father. Rosa's self-imposed exile, far from home, is filled with recipes so delicious she drives her neighbors wild. Rosa's dormant passion explodes in the arms of a mysterious stranger, l'Inglese, who enters her library to do research and immediately professes uncontrollable desire for Rosa's body and for her cooking knowledge. Thus begins a summer of gourmet meals and noisy sex. When l'Inglese disappears, Rosa's tortured daydreams of past frolicking lead to a house fire and her near death. Her slow recuperation begins when she is rescued by her long-estranged family, who bring her home. Reminiscent of Laura Esquivel and John Irving, mixed with a healthy dollop of Gabriel Garc a M rquez, Prior's debut is clever, untamed, funny, and at times shocking. For larger fiction collections.--Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut fiction (subtitled"a novel of rapture") about a lonely, middle-aged librarian who experiences a sexual reawakening intimately linked to her sensual kitchen skills. British author Prior's affection for Italy, especially its food, is clearly genuine, but her patronizing portrait of the Sicilian peasantry and Mafia verges on caricature. Here, Rosa Fiore narrates the story of her life in mid-century Sicily, emphasizing"the virility of our men and the fecundity of our women." Early on, Rosa's father"disappears," apparently taken by members of the Mafia although no reason is given. Soon enough, then, the girl's mother is holding"rehearsals" to find a suitor adequate to her sexual passion. Later, adolescent Rosa's first lover is murdered by his Mafioso father, a matter of family honor since the boy slept with her while betrothed to another. Grief-stricken, Rosa cooks her way through her family's farm produce and animals, then moves to Palermo and becomes a librarian. Twenty-five years later, her one remaining pleasure is cooking, and Rosa shows no false modesty regarding her prowess in the kitchen, sharing snatches of meal preparation (no actual recipes, only the dishes' italicized titles) with her readers. One day a mysterious stranger with thinning hair, a small mustache, and bad teeth arrives at the library to do culinary research. Identified only as l'Inglese (the Englishman), he recognizes the beauty others have missed in Rosa's heft and ample bosom, not to mention her complicated recipes. The two embark on an affair of torrid lovemaking and even more passionate food preparation. But Rosa's new happiness ends abruptly when l'Inglesevanishes.She sorrowfully returns to the familyfarm to cook. After her brother Luigi claims he has had l'Inglese"removed," Rosa is understandably upset:"So my brother had killed my lover. What a way to start the day." Happily, though, a rosy—if inexplicable—ending lies in store for plucky Rosa. Less a banquet of the senses than a junk-food gorge.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.64(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Tip the flour in a heap on the table. The old oak table, legacy of Nonna Calzino, smoothed to a brilliant luster by all the years of daily use.

Not too much flour. Not too little. Just the right amount. Fine flour milled from durum wheat by Papa Grazzi at Mascali. Sprinkle in some sea salt, a good measure. Add some fresh eggs and some extra egg yolks, sufficient for the amount of flour, and also some good olive oil and a very little cold water.

Using your fingers, mix the liquids into the flour, combining your ingredients until a smooth paste is formed. The eggs may feel slimy to the touch but this is natural. Knead well, using the heels of the hands in a forward, downward movement.

Knead just until the arms begin to ache and the small bead of sweat starts to trace its way down the spine from somewhere between the shoulder blades to the cleft between the buttocks. This, of course, in winter; in summer the sweat pours down the face and neck, dampening the clothes and making droplets on the table and the flagstone floor.

When the dough is smooth and elastic, brush it with a little oil, cover it with a damp cloth, and leave it to rest, for it too is fatigued. While you are waiting for your dough to relax you can leaf through the pages of a magazine, observing this season's latest fashions, or gaze from the window at young Maria flirting with the postman on the street corner below. Look at Fredo riding by on his bicycle, or at the pack of stray dogs escaping from the dog catcher, and at life in general passing you by.

Then you may begin the rolling. Dust the table lightly with flour and divide your dough into eight equalpieces. Taking one piece, begin rolling by moving the rolling pin in a motion away from you, pressing evenly to create a rectangular shape. Continue thus until your sheet of pasta is long and thin and about the thickness of the blade of a knife. The knife that slit Bartolomeo's throat. Slicing through his beautiful young flesh like a coltello through lard.

Cut the sheet in half horizontally and hang it over a pole to dry for five minutes. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough to make sixteen sheets. Slice carefully the length of each sheet forming the thinnest strips you can. Again let these dry on the pole for another five minutes. Here you have your spaghetti, which, with a delicious sauce of ripe tomatoes, basil, sleek eggplant, and ricotta you will eat for lunch, when office workers, acrobats, and slaughtermen return home for the siesta and for a few brief hours the restless city sleeps.

Following the murder of Bartolomeo, I made pasta night and day. I retreated into the kitchen in the same way that some women retreat into convents, as Pasquala Tredici did after her sweetheart, Roberto, was gored to death by a bull.

I had always loved my food: in those dark days it was all that could give me comfort. I did not emerge from my self-imposed exile in la cucina for a long time. I assuaged my grief by cooking, and cooking, and cooking some more.

At that time I was still living with my family on the farm in the Alcantara valley beneath the citadel of Castiglione, on the far eastern side of the island of Sicily, near the slopes of the great volcano.

The valley of the Alcantara is an area famous for its fruitfulness. Its olives are more succulent, its oranges juicier, its pigs porkier than any other region. The abundance of our land is reflected in our people, who, as a general rule, are wholesome, hearty, and strong.

The virility of our men and the fecundity of our women have also been noted; families tend to be large here, and the urge to mate is strong among both humans and animals.

By a strange phenomenon multiple births are as common among Alcantara women as they are among sows; we give birth to many twins, triplets, even quadruplets, and identical little faces rill the classrooms in the local school. We are so accustomed to seeing duplicates and triplicates of farmhands, housewives, and goatherds that they fail even to draw notice, except among strangers. But few strangers come here.

In our lush valley, they say the fire in the loins of the inhabitants draws flame from the smoldering mountain that dominates our skyline. It casts its spell over the lives brewing in its shadow, where for millions of years it has ejaculated its own life force, clothing its slopes in rich black lava.

La Cucina. Copyright © by Lily Prior. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Lily Prior is the author of La Cucina, Ardor, and Nectar and she divides her time between London and Italy.

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La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
heathercollins More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The story captures you and keeps you reading. It's a short book, but a lovely one. It is funny, witty and definitely worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No1NewAuthor More than 1 year ago
Lily Prior is a master, mixing whimsy, romance & comedy, all for the purpose of making you smile & laugh out loud. While reading, be prepared for others people around you to think there's something wrong with you from all the muffled chuckles beneath your palm. WARNING: Not to be read in a quiet bookstore or library!
E-Love More than 1 year ago
I loved every page and couldn't put it down! Entertainment value galore! The story telling was phenomenal, and full of whimsy. It's imaginative. A 100% must read. Bravo, Lily Prior! If you like this books, please look at my recommendations.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book seller recommended this book because it was 'a good quick read' and while it was a quick read, I did not find the story itself to be original or interesting. Sometimes the story seemed to be building up to something deeper, but I couldn't help but feel cheated at the end....as if there was almost no point to the book except to write a book. This novel was compared to Like Water for Chocolate, however I found very little similarities between the two novels. Like Water for Chocolate was an attention holding story, very colorful in its language and writing style. I found the writing in this book to be very superficial and at times it sounded very stereotypical.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful Italian love story that winds itself around you like a warm blanket. Ms. Prior's first novel takes detailed images of food and cooking and weaves them throughout her well written story of rapture. This is a great book for your summer reading list. Find a comfy chair and get a cool glass of water. You won't want to put it down and reading it might make you hot and thirsty. Highly recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really did enjoy this book. So much so that I was disappointed with the ending. Why didn't Ms. Prior tell us where L'Inglese had been all this time and why?!!! What was his connection with Rosa's brother, Luigi? Did L'Inglese kill Crocifisso? My happiness that Rosa had gotten her love back was tempered with my frustration and disappointment of too many unanswered questions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'La Cucina' is one of the most sensual novels of its time. Much like 'Like Water for Chocolate' this book allows cooking to unleash passions through all the senses. Rosa Fiore had a secret weapon. She was a wonderful chef and used this gift to change her otherwise repressed life. Stuck in a dreary job and taken for granted by family, her sudden meeting with a stranger changes her life. He appreciates all of her gifts. Unfortunately, he mysteriously disappears after a romantic summer and Rosa is forced to go back home to her former life. However, she is greeted with newfound respect, which alters her view on her past, present and future. This is a wonderful book that is engaging, romantic,passionate and endearing. I highly recommend it to all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is by far one of the best books I have ever read.It took me less than 3 days to absorb this whole book.I absolutely loved the relationship between Rosa and l'Inglese it was so provacative and the desire for her as an equal was beautiful.I admit I was a little disappointed at the end when l'Inglese comes back. However,I believe Ms.Prior left that up to us as the reader, so we can imagine all of the possibilities of l'Inglese's whereabouts. To be honest, I almost cried when Rosa saw l'Inglese coming down the road because I had become so wrapped up in her life that I felt her pains and joys and sorrows as if they were mine. This is a book you will not regret reading.