I lucked out on my first receipt of a book from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer feature:
Tomato Rhapsody, by Adam Schell. Wow. Just – wow. I really wasn’t sure when I started … but wow – e cosi bello!
I’ll never look at tomato sauce the same way again.
It was an extraordinary book. It’s a fable about how the tomato came to Europe, and how it overcame the strange, popular prejudice that it was extremely and immediately poisonous, to become inseparable from Italian cuisine. It’s also about a wicked stepfather, the oppression of Jews in early Renaissance Europe, the curing of olives, Christopher Columbus, Catholic missionaries in Africa, sanitation, copulation, and celebration. It’s a romance (not a love story), basically Romeo and Juliet if the lovers had been older and there had been someone sensible in Fair Verona. Everything in the story has meaning and significance: a donkey’s bray, a shaft of sunlight, a drop of holy water. The story is earthy – sometimes downright crude – as well as golden, rapturous, euphoric – and yes, rhapsodic. It is both sprawling and intimate, with a good-sized cast of characters who do not come across as “characters”; these are people, wildly individual and altogether real.
Some might find the rhyming dialogue cloying, or indeed find it no better than annoying. But I find that the couplets to my inner ear became as natural and simple as, dare I say, Shakespeare. (I was tempted to write an entire review in rhyme, but it would take forever; I just don’t have the time.)
Read this book. But first make sure your pantry is well stocked with good olive oil, good bread, eggplant (try the Good Padre’s idea in Chapter 3 – it’s wonderful), fresh herbs – and tomatoes. Definitely tomatoes. Lots of them.