Mother Tongue
An American Life in Italy



This book examines the reality of living in two or more minds. It describes place and multiple view points within cultures and families. The book, in the way that much women's writing is iconoclastic and new, is about describing everyday experience as significant and full of contradictory meaning. Mother Tongue proposes new language for consciousness and how one captures inner and outer life. The book is not a piece of travel writing. Rather it is a bold invitation to recognize the extraordinary poetic meanings in being alive.


Reviews:


THE NEW YORKER

"The name Parma signifies a small Roman shield, and during fifteen years in Italy with her husband, a Parma native, the author of this richly absorbing book has experienced the city as an outsider and as a captive.
Part autobiography and part travelogue (Parma bread, Correggio, and local politics are described with equal fluency), the book sets out to map a series of long, complex relationships, and it comes to feel like one itself, in which a certain amount of prattle is compensated for by drama, enchantment, and grist."

All rights reserved.July 21, 1997


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MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

"How do I adequately describe and praise "Mother Tongue: An American Life in Italy" by Wisconsin-born Wallis Wilde-Menozzi?
First, by saying I want my daughter to read it. (High praise that, if you knew my daughter, Susan.) Second, by mentioning Mary McCarthy's classic "The Stones of Florence" and Barbara Grizzuti Harrison's "Italian Days" in the same breath. Third, by telling you if I had to choose among them, I'd take "Mother Tongue" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25) because of Wilde-Menozzi's combination of unblinking introspection and graceful language in describing both her girlhood in Wauwatosa and her
life today in Parma, Italy. This woman can write; better yet, she can see, both inward and outward."

From review by Lois Blinkhorn


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BIRMINGHAM POST (England)

"But the finest memoirs I have read in years is Wallis Wilde-Menozzi's Mother Tongue (Farrar, Straus & Giroux £25). A formidable intelligence is at work here, a poetic sensibility, a divided self in exile. Wallis is an American writer who takes root in ber husband's home town of Parma, where he was offered a university chair of biology.
Having left an academic post at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Wallis experiences a near-vacuum (open competition in Italian universities is rare) which primarily centres round wifely/​motherly duties and occasional teaching of adults.
Nothing escapes this perspicacious woman who examines the paths trod by pilgrim and pillagers drawn to Italy over the centuries. All is gathered, melted and stirred in the crucible of her mind, into this bowl of fire that will flicker and glow long after this volume is closed. Perfection."

From review by Marianne Nault


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BOOKS IN CANADA

"The chapter headings-among them "Landing", "Alba", "Basement", "Palatina Library", "The Scream"-identify the author's explorations into art and architecture, into the world of books, language, libraries, and print, into food and family, and into the memory of growing up in a Norwegian-Lutheran family in Wisconsin. In clear, beautiful prose, for example, she meditates on paper’s simultaneous fragility and ability to fix for all time, and on her own indebtedness to it as a writer. This meditation arises from her being situated in Parma, where paper-making was one of the town's animating industries during the Renaissance: "Paper's durable existence is memory's unsung chapter. Without it, so much less of the world we know would be retrievable for third parties, or have ever even been possible. No wonder in its sturdiness, its esoteric beauty, its itinerant capacities, its inconsequential thinness, its susceptibility to fire and worms, paper is moving. I, for one, am an indentured servant..."."

From review by Constance Dilley John


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Mac Gills - "BEST 200 BOOKS OF 1998" Literary Annual

"Mother Tongue is a warm and wonderful book. It's 29 chapters, any of which can be read independently but the sum of which constitute a coherent comment on expatriate experience, bustle with fresh ideas and sharp insights. The author's powers of observation are extraordinary... She is to be commended both for her profound understanding of (multicultural) tensions and for her exceptional Virginia Woolf-like subtlety in presenting them."

From review by R. Baird Shuman


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KIRKUS REVIEWS
"[...] Life, death, politics, language, art, books, food, and love commingle on the page.
The author's sojourn in Italy becomes the catalyst for intensive soul-searching, which refracts off the page in marvelous images: She speaks of coffee reaching "a noisy orgasm in the espresso pot." Discussing bread's centrality in Italian life, she celebrates it as "a sacred gift"; whether it is "fresh, stale, hanging on, filling bitter hunger, nourishing hopes, crusty and chewable," bread is "sometimes all there is." Evocative and moving."

-- Copyright © 1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved

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PALAZZO SANVITALE

"Come si intuisce forse dal titolo, si tratta di un libro autobiografico nel quale l'autrice, descrivendo la sua vita quotidiana a Parma, approfitta per tracciare, dal particolare osservatorio della città e senza cedimenti al pittoresco o ai luoghi comuni, un profilo artistico, storico, politico, sociologico e paesaggistico dell'Italia. Il libro, commissionato da un editore americano, si rivolge in primo luogo a un pubblico americano, ma l'intento divulgativo è sempre trasceso da una profonda e partecipe conoscenza dell'argomento trattato. Oltre a ciò, esso è anche una riflessione sullo scrivere, particolarmente sullo scrivere in un paese di lingua e abitudini straniere: se infatti la lingua madre è per tutti garante di identità, tanto più lo è per chi sulla lingua ha basato la propria vita facendone un mestiere. Mother Tongue si trasforma allora in un itinerario esistenziale alla ricerca, o meglio, alla ridefinizione dell'identità in un luogo diverso dalla propria nazione. Trovare un'identità significa trovare delle radici, risalire alle proprie origini, e Wallis Wilde-Menozzi indaga nel nostro passato per ritrovarvi una personale ascendenza femminile, madri e sorelle spirituali, se non carnali. Testimonia in fondo della ricchezza della nostra cultura il fatto che anche chi non ne fa parte per nascita possa attingervi, rinvenendovi parentele e affinità. I personaggi a cui W. W. Menozzi si sente più vicina, le ave ideali, sono le anticonformiste, le ribelli, le donne che hanno esplorato per sé e per le altre nuove strade.
Donella Rossi Sanvitale, Lavinia Fontana, ma soprattutto la Badessa Giovanna, personaggio alquanto trascurato dalla storiografia locale, vengono, pur nel rispetto del dato biografico, fatte proprie e reinterpretate."

Review by Francesca Avanzini



PAPERBACK!


FROM THE BACK COVER:


Reynolds Price, novelist and essayist


"Mother Tongue is a memoir of extraordinary richness and honesty. As it contemplates the life of the young American writer who joins her Italian husband in Parma, it steadily draws in a bounty of startling and finally consoling news from a dauntless new life in a very old place."

Shirley Hazzard, novelist and essayist


"This book is a large, beautiful window into the intelligent, literate, reflective life of Italy -- intimately lived and observed by a modern American woman. A wise and delightful work, admirable in its synthesis of understanding, independence, and rare humility."

LETTERS FROM THE READERS:


Shirley Jeffrey
from Milwaukee, Wisconsin,
September 4, 1998


A spiritual journey filled with gems
"Mother Tongue is a book to savor. Those who want a rapid read or a linear account will be frustrated. The book's strength is in its "free association" style and its poetic richness.
When asked to say what the book is about, readers' answers vary. "lt is a book about the strength of women." "...about being a foreigner." "...about Parma, Italy." "about Family." "...about the differences in two cultures." "...about the importance of place."
While this reader would agree with all of the above, it is more significantly a sharing of the spiritual journey that grows from enormous loss. In that sense it is the hero's journey. I am reminded of Dante's, "Midway along the journey of life I woke to find myself in some dark woods... How hard it is to tell what it was like, this wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn... But if I would show the good that came of it/​ I must talk about things other than the good." [...]"

Herbert Tico Braun
from Charlottesville, Virginia,
August 15, 1998


A sensitive portrayal of Italian and American culture
"Mother Tongue is an intimate and down-to-earth exploration of daily life as it emerges from Anglo-Saxon Protestant and Italian Catholic traditions. It is composed in twenty-nine brief sections. Readers will find little gems on almost every page which illuminate major questions of our time. I keep this book close at hand. It opens doors to cultural understanding. Wallis Wilde-Menozzi is an American writer who takes the reader into a culture in which the group and the community define daily life. American readers will find much here to yearn for, and much that they will not bear. So this book does not offer us any false and easy answers to our modern search from both community and individualism. Rather, we are engaged by one perceptive thought after another on the meaning of human relationships. [...]"