That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina

The quality of sunlight…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

When a PI tracks Tommaso down in London to give him the news that he has been left a large legacy, Tommaso tells him he doesn’t want it and pleads that his whereabouts should not be revealed. To make the PI understand why his anonymity is so important to him, Tommaso agrees to tell him the story of why he left Italy – the story of his last summer in Puglia. That was the summer, long ago when Tommaso was young, that he met and fell in love with Anna. The book tells the story of their love, and we know from the beginning that it ended with some kind of tragedy that led Tommaso to cut all ties with home and take on a new identity in London. But it’s only after we follow Tommaso through the events of the summer that we find out what happened…

On the face of it, this is a straightforward account of a love affair, but the quality of the writing, the great pacing and, most of all, the superb sense of place make it so much more than that. It’s also an intense character study of Tommaso whom we come to know perhaps better than he knows himself. And it’s wonderfully evocative of the culture of Puglia, in the heel of Italy, in the 1980s – still strictly conservative in outlook, still largely in thrall to Catholicism, and with strong family expectations that children will follow the paths determined for them by their parents.

The story is slow to unfold, with many digressions into Tommaso’s memories of his childhood. But these are interesting in themselves for what they tell us about the way of life in this quiet, tradition-bound area and all serve to add depth to our understanding of his character. He is not entirely likeable, but the telling of his story so many years later seems to allow him to reassess the events and his reaction to them, so that he appears to grow in self-awareness as the book progresses. The falling in love aspect is done beautifully, with that intensity which only happens with early first love, and although some of the later events might have seemed extreme had they been placed in a contemporary setting, Vescina’s careful re-creation of this moment in the culture, so recent and yet so rooted in the traditions of the past, make them entirely credible.

Ostuni, Puglia

There were a couple of weaknesses for me, although minor. The framing device of Tommaso telling his story to the PI led to some occasional clunkiness in the use of second person as Tommaso occasionally breaks off from his narrative to talk to his interlocutor, whose questions and remarks are relayed to the reader only second-hand through Tommaso’s responses. However this only happens for a couple of paragraphs at the beginning of an occasional chapter, so it doesn’t break the flow too much. There is a section after the events of the summer and before the final dénouement where we learn of Tommaso’s life between then and now, and, while the quality of the writing still makes this very readable, I felt it was too long and added very little to the story, merely delaying the ending.

However, neither of these significantly impacted my enjoyment of the book. The story and characters kept me fully absorbed as I read this book over one long, lazy day and Vescina’s wonderful descriptive writing transported me to Puglia – a place I have never visited in real life but now feel I can visualise as if from actual memories. I was attracted to the book partly because Puglia is one of the places on my Around the World in 80 Books challenge, and I couldn’t have picked a better one. From the narrow, winding streets in the medieval Old Town of Ostuni to the groves of fig and olive trees, from the quality of the sunlight to the smell of the local tomatoes, from the colours of the buildings to the ingredients of the traditional meals – everything is given a lush richness that engages all the senses. Vescina also has a great sense of the history of the region – her own birthplace – and has the skill to dole out her knowledge sparingly as an integral part of the story.

The trail snaked through the vegetation, skirting tufts of ammofila – ‘sand lover’, or, more prosaically, marram grass – and shrubs. Now and then, the track ushered us into small clearings where we struggled to make out its continuation. L’albero magico – our magic tree, as we later called it – materialised before us. It was a squat oak – not of the kind familiar in Britain, but a distant cousin rooted in arid earth – whose branches arched downwards, forming a dark-green canopy over a bed of fine sand. It called to mind an apparition out of one of those fairy tales in which nature shields hero and heroine from the villains in pursuit, throwing obstacles – from brambles to boulders – in their way, while offering sanctuary and sustenance to the fugitives.

As you’ll have gathered, I loved this book, becoming totally immersed in both story and place, and was reluctant to leave Puglia when it ended. It’s Vescina’s début, but is written with a sure-footedness and level of assurance that many a more experienced writer might envy. I’m looking forward with great anticipation to reading more from this gifted storyteller in the future.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Eyewear Publishing.

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40 thoughts on “That Summer in Puglia by Valeria Vescina

  1. It does sound lovely, FictionFan! And it sounds as though the place itself takes on its own personality (I know, that sounds trite. But you get my point…). Sometimes a story doesn’t have to be fast-paced to be thoroughly absorbing. Add to that an appealing writing style, and you’ve got a good read.


    • Absolutely – the sense of place in this one was so strong I really felt almost as if I was there, and that doesn’t happen to me very often. And although it was slow, the pacing was excellent, so that it never left me feeling it was TOO slow (except maybe in that section at the end, but that was minor in the overall scheme of things). Good stuff! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I absolutely love Puglia. I’ve been there a couple of times on holiday and would definitely recommend it as an escape from the pressures of modern life – the pace of life feels completely different there. As for the book, it definitely sounds like my cup of tea, so thank you for writing about it here.


    • It sounded gorgeous – both landscape and lifestyle, and her descriptive writing was so good I really felt as if I was there, which doesn’t happen to me often in books. It’s a lovely book too, so I hope you enjoy it if you do get a chance to read it… 😀


  3. A beautifully written review of an (almost) equally beautifully written book! It sounds delightful and I take every single one of my many hats off to an author to accomplish such a feat on their first outing. The very best of luck to them!


  4. Great review! I don’t know Puglia at all myself, but Middle Sister did and loved it. I have a water-colour on my study wall which she brought back and I often gaze wistfully at it when I’m trying to make sense of some particularly intractable report or other.


  5. A five-star review for a debut novel? Wow, I’m impressed. And I wish Valeria Vescina much success with it. What a beautiful place — so much dazzling white architecture amid such blue blue water. Reminds me I need a vacation … soon!


    • I really felt as if I was having a vacation while I was reading it – such a strong sense of place, and the descriptive writing is great. And doesn’t it look gorgeous? Yes, she’s a talented lady – I wonder what she’ll give us next… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Within a few sentences of the review, I thought “This isn’t her kind of book!” However, the story is appealing to me in the sense that he’s going back and reflecting on what happened to him in this relationship, and I like how I sort of have a feel for the book after looking at the cover. Typically, I hate books that have real people on the cover, but this one isn’t too overwhelming, probably because you can’t even see their faces, and the black and white image helps give it an old feel, something foreign. Glad to see you’re trying something different and enjoying it!


    • Ha – it is a bit different from my usual, but I do like to be fairly eclectic in my reading. And the reviews I had read of it made it sound so good! I know what you mean about people on covers, and I hate picture of women’s faces or the ubiquitous girl in a red jacket. But I love this cover, even more after reading the book – it really matches the story and the tone… 😀


  7. Wow, does this ever sound lovely, FF! I want to visit Puglia, too! I have been to Italy and will have to see how close we were to Puglia in our travels. I’m hoping the things that bugged you won’t bug me and/or it will be like you, and they will be minor. I have added this to the top of my wishlist! Thank you for the recommendation.


    • Puglia sounds wonderful – all that sun and se and gorgeous food, and lots of history. I’ve only ever been to the north of Italy but would love to visit the south. Oh, I’m glad you’ve added it – I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did. The little weaknesses didn’t spoil it at all for me – I’m just a very picky reader… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Mmmm I can smell the tomates too! This sounds like a lovely read, and for someone who has never been to Italy, it sounds like a wonderful way to get to know the place 🙂


  9. I love a book with a vivid setting. Just reading your review has made me want to go and book a trip to Puglia! I’m glad you enjoyed it, despite the few weaknesses.


    • I do too, and I was completely transported to Puglia by this one. It sounds just about perfect – sun, sea, old town with lots of history, and the food! And the story was absorbing too – really an excellent debut. 😀


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