I’m shocked to see that I’ve not reviewed a book on here since last September! I promise, I’ve read several books since then. The latest is Under a Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander. I published a guest post by Sara Alexander yesterday which you can read here.
The book begins in the present day with Mina. Her beloved aunt has just died, and she finds herself thinking about her long lost aunt – the black sheep of the family, about whom nobody will speak.
The book then jumps back in time to post-war Sardinia and the story of Carmela, the eldest daughter. This section takes up most of the book, to the point that I forgot all about Mina. Carmela is engaged to Franco, and when they get married she will be one of the most influential and rich women in the small town; she will give up her job as a seamstress at her godmother’s studio, and cooking for a wealthy English family who spend their summers in the town; she will become a kept woman. She should be looking forward to her wedding, but she’s uneasy about the future. And then an American Army lieutenant appears in the town, further clouding the issue.
We know from the beginning that Carmela disappears, that her family either don’t know or won’t talk about her fate – so I found that every time something happened I was thinking, “is this the bit where she runs off/gets killed/otherwise disappears?” What was great about the story is that I couldn’t have guessed her fate. And that it wasn’t just this linear story where Carmela is unhappy, meets another man, falls in love with him instead and so on. She goes back and forth between options; she knows she will bring shame on her family if she calls off her engagement to Franco, so she’s constantly trying to persuade herself that actually, she does love him; actually, he’s not worryingly obsessed and possessive; actually, he’s lovely and she does want to marry him. This makes it a much more realistic story and I think something to which a lot of us can relate. Things are rarely black and white, and in Carmela’s situation we would all probably vacillate as much as she does.
Towards the end of the book, Carmela’s story ends without really finishing – we still don’t know what has happened to her. We cut back to Mina, who has travelled to Sardinia for her aunt’s funeral. Here she meets all the familiar characters from Carmela’s story – but even all these years later, nobody will talk about what happened to her aunt and Mina leaves Sardinia to go back to work.
The final few pages are an absolutely perfect ending to the story. I don’t want to talk too much about what happens because it might give it away and I really wouldn’t want to spoil it for you! Trust me though, if this story sounds interesting so far, you will love the ending.
A running theme throughout the book is the food. While I was reading it I kept thinking I should begin the review with “this is a book about food” because it really does seem to be. Instead of saying “they ate pasta for dinner” it goes into great detail about how they prepare the food. In the modern world where cuisine from all over the world is just a ping meal away, it felt almost strange to hear about this family in Sardinia making their own cheese; killing a pig in the autumn whose meat will last them through to the spring; walking through the town to queue up to use the baker’s oven for the family bread. All the things people did in the 1950s that feel like they were hundreds of years ago.
I love the way the different parts of the story fall into place, and the way Carmela sees the world around her. It’s the 1950s and she is torn between living the traditional life of her family and ancestors, and going out into the big wide world of the future – something I think was a major concern for many people, especially women, during that time. There are a lot of subtle details that serve to remind the reader of the time, and the way Carmela lives. When she goes to a picnic with the English family for whom she works, they bring along drinking water in large leather bags. Later in the book she travels to a large city on the other side of the island and it seems completely alien to her, after living her entire life so far in the same town with the same people.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. At the beginning I found it really hard to keep track of all the Sardinian characters and who was related to whom – but I think that might be partly intentional on the part of the author, as the town they live in is one of those tiny places where everyone knows everyone and huge extended families spend a lot of time together. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the authors mentioned above, but also to anyone interested in history, and anyone who loves a good summer read!
Under a Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander is released on April 20th.
Thanks for reading.