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On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal
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On Persephone's Island: A Sicilian Journal

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  294 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
An American woman residing in Sicily for the past twenty years portrays the Sicilian landscape and customs--both rural and urban--from the perspectives of both a "foreigner" and a resident.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 26th 1995 by Vintage (first published January 1st 1986)
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Aug 01, 2007 Jen rated it it was amazing
My family spent a month in Sicily this past April. It was a much-needed vacation to one of my childhood homes, and it was a vacation full of good times, great food, and wonderful wine. While we there, my husband and I read several books concerning Sicily, and On Persephone's Island was my favorite. Simeti captures all that fascinates me about Sicily -- the people, the food, the wine, the geography, the religion, the mythology, the history, the sights, the smells, and yes, even the Mafia -- perfe ...more
Aug 05, 2012 Andrew rated it it was amazing
A young college graduate from America, in this memoir, travels from the USA to Italy and then to Palermo, Sicily in order to work in a social justice community center in Palermo. She never returns to America. She marries, has children, makes wine and channels all things Italian. This describes her life on the Island of Sicily over a several year period and she makes connections with Greek mythology as the Greeks occupied Sicily for many years.
May 06, 2008 Ana rated it really liked it
Shelves: foodie
I really enjoyed this book! I really appreciated her openness about her experiences moving to Sicily as a young woman and then establishing a life there. I found her very self-reflexive, intelligent, and witty. Her love of the place as well as her concerns about it definitely come through and helped shape my appreciation of Sicily while there. Her anecdotes helped my partner & I plan our travels through the island. And I loved the mix of personal stories with mythology, anthropology, folklor ...more
Jul 07, 2008 Jess rated it liked it
Shelves: wanderlust
This was an enjoyable read about a place that I really felt I should know more about. I liked that the author did not shy away from presenting the harsh realities of life in Sicily along with the descriptions of its beauty. The most interesting parts for me were the ones focused on the history and mythology that have shaped Sicilian culture. My only major critique is that I wish there had been more focus on that and less discussion of the local flora.

Thanks for lending this to me, Christine : )
Zora O'Neill
Sep 22, 2009 Zora O'Neill rated it it was amazing
So beautiful! A wonderfully crafted book that covers about a year in Sicily, in the early 1980s--Simeti weaves together the natural world (largely what happens on her farm), the Sicilian folk festivals and the news of the day, much of it having to do with the Mafia. Part of the beauty of it is that she lives in Sicily, but looks at the place like a traveler--a lot of the book involves her exploring ruins and little out-of-the-way towns. It's the kind of travel writing that we don't see much of a ...more
Bart Everson
Oct 21, 2012 Bart Everson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: persephone
Take a year to read this book.

That's what I did, anyhow. The book is divided into seasonal sections, and (less obvious at first glance) each of the eleven chapters corresponds to one month of the year, starting with November. The epilogue covers the twelfth month.

In total, it's a journal of one year in Sicily, one year in one woman's life. She happens to be an American expatriate, but one who has married a native and raised children on the island. Thus she offers a unique perspective, both insid
Mar 20, 2017 Strivetoengage rated it liked it
I posted my review of this book onto my blog:
Thorwald Franke
Jan 09, 2013 Thorwald Franke rated it it was amazing
Ingenious description of life and customs on Sicily

As a young student from New York Mary Taylor Simeti came to Sicily, fell in love, married and lived her life on the island as an expatriate. This means she is the double-role of an insider and an outsider and thus the perfect reporter on atmosphere, life and customs on Sicily, far better than any journalist traveling around for some months.

The book is organized following the seasons of the year thus showing the close relationship of life on Sici
A charming "My Summer in Tuscany" type of travel book written by an American author who travels to Sicily, marries a Sicilian, and stays. Travel combined with local history and family tales and a very large amount of information about agriculture, local vegetation, crops and local produce. If this is your cup of tea, it is then best read together with the companion book by the same author that covers "twenty-five years of Sicilian Food" entitled Pomp and Sustenance. Ms. Simeti's colourful and ex ...more
Elisabeth Watson
Jul 13, 2016 Elisabeth Watson rated it it was amazing
Why is this gem of a book not among the most celebrated expat/farming/travel memoirs of the 20th century? The uniqueness of Mary Taylor Simeti's story is such a wonderful change of pace from other expat stories: she came to Sicily in 1962 to learn about community organizing and about worker-led movements for land and food justice. She fell in love with a Sicilian man, married him and planned to spend the rest of the world traveling the world with him to support grass-roots organizing and agricul ...more
Cynthia Haggard
Nov 20, 2011 Cynthia Haggard rated it really liked it
I bought this book because I plan to travel to Sicily next spring and am currently reading up on it so that I have as much understanding about this fascinating place as one can gain from an armchair, and also to prepare me for the actual experience of going there.

I was delighted to see that Mary Taylor Simeti had done a travelogue of Sicily, because I remembered her charming tale of Queen Constance and her various travels around Italy that I read some years ago. I was not disappointed in this b
Kathleen F
Aug 29, 2009 Kathleen F rated it really liked it
Mary Taylor Simeti's fascinating account of living as an expat in Sicily, @1970s-early 1990s. Just after college, Simeti met and married her Sicilian husband, and began spending her life between a small apartment in Palermo and the family farm in the countryside of Sicily. She provides a beautifully written chronicle of "a year in the life" of her family, and her adopted country/countryside. She deftly weaves the story throughout with Greek & Roman myth (particularly Demeter & Persephone ...more
May 15, 2008 Christine rated it really liked it
I half expected/ feared this to be another typical disaster of the travel genre- another expat wistfully recounts the romantic experiences of living in a distant land. A book I'd have to write off as a guilty pleasure. I was very pleasantly surprised to find Simetti's work footnoted with excerpts from Greek and Roman historians and modern Sicilian writers. She unpretentiously incorporates art, history and culture into this book, which at its core is a charming memoir of a life spent raising her ...more
Mar 27, 2008 Susie rated it it was amazing
Wow! I read this book to get ready for our family trip this summer, during which we will stop on Sicily. I was not expecting such a beautifully written, thoughtful description of Sicilian life, history, culture and mythological significance--and yes, the Mafia! The author is an American woman who married a Sicilian man and went on to raise her children on Sicily. During that time she spends a lot of time working on the family farm, so she describes the agricultural rhythms of the island, as well ...more
Sylvia Tedesco
Jun 27, 2013 Sylvia Tedesco rated it it was amazing
When we owned a travel agency we took groups to Sicily several times. We love this book and always suggested our travelers read it. Mary Simeti is a brilliant, perceptive writer who gives you Sicily in its entirety, food, history, current events, stories about her family farm growing and processing olives, cooking, recipes, and delightful travels around the island to various cities and their festivals. Her husband is Sicilian and a professor of Agriculture at the University. Mary was from New Yo ...more
Dec 19, 2009 Carmen rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
Mary is a New Englander who found her way to Sicily in the 60's. While there she meets and marries a man and starts a family. It is through her eyes that we hear of a typical year. She sets the book up to follow the seasons. The description of the places is well done, the connection to its Greek ancestry is well done, tie backs to other authors who have visited and written about this place are well done, but what is missing is a better characterization of the people she meets. The story is writt ...more
Dec 12, 2014 Annette rated it really liked it
The author, an American, guides us through the Sicily she came to know after living there for 20 years. The book is organized by the seasons, and she takes her cues from nature, intertwining the flora and fauna of the island with relevant Greek and Roman mythology. She doesn't shy away from talking about the Mafia and her frustrations with the way things worked in 1980s Sicily. The author has a light touch that made me feel the hot summer wind, smell the lavender, taste the food--and definitely ...more
Sep 30, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature-travel, memoir
Another American-expatriate-in-Mediterranea book... Ms. Semiti however writes colorfully and most especially when describing flora. she writes around monthly cycle of planting and harvest, working from winter forward, and notes the feasts and follies of her Sicilian neighbors in terms just as colorful. One of the best of this genre I have yet encountered, itself to be savored at a pace as leisurely as the Sicilian clime... (which is why I'm not quite done)...
Aug 05, 2011 Pamela rated it liked it
I read this before/during a trip to Sicily last fall. The book is a bit tedious and over researched. I found the author at her best when writing candidly of her family life, Sicily's many fascinating historical treasures and even the harsh realities of politics. When she delved into the historical and mythological, I was a bit bored. Her overall literary approach is a bit dated and formal. Still, a book I would recommend to anyone planning a trip to Sicily.
Jun 03, 2013 Maya rated it really liked it
I found this to be much more interesting once I was actually reading it on Sicily, imagine that. Without that context, it was a bit too impersonal as a memoir for my taste. The parts about her personal journey as an ex-pat were too few and far between. While the history and travel description was very well written, it was a bit flat for me to really get absorbed with until I was seeing things for myself.
Emily Von pfahl
Sep 10, 2010 Emily Von pfahl rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir, sicily
I picked this up expecting something like Peter Mayle's a Year in Provence, but this was not the case. Simeti is a very good writer, highly descriptive and detailed, but the book gets bogged down in all of the minutia of the various festivals and the assorted plants she describes. The best parts are where she discusses her family and the relationships with their neighbors and friends because then there is an actual narrative to follow, instead of a litany of flowery description.
Aug 02, 2007 Rich rated it liked it
Shelves: keeping
There aren't many books about Sicilian culture and history out there. This book had a pace you could expect from a book about the seasons on the island, but in some cases the writing disappeared from view. Too much combination of the greek and roman history with the current culture it has degraded to.

Nevertheless, it provides a great sense of what the sicilian culture has to offer -- from holidays to the foods celebrated.
Aug 13, 2012 Coppelia rated it liked it
Mary is in love with Sicily. She is a gutsy women who manages to adapt and make the best of things for herself and her family. The amount of research and care taken to describe the many festivals and traditions in Sicilian life is notable. Mary gives us a front row seat into a not so ordinary life. Well written.
Sep 26, 2013 Peg rated it liked it
Recommended to Peg by: Jennifer Donkin
A slow, lyrical read. Would have been more interesting if a trip to sicily had been in the works. The author is an expatriate raising her family in a traditional culture. She describes their lives, arranged by the seasons. Lots of agricultural and mythological information, less characterization of her neighbors and friends. Her mother-in-law is the one she brings to life most vividly.
Jul 31, 2008 Patricia rated it really liked it
Shelves: italy, travel
Her descriptions of pageants and places were full of poetic, vivid detail. She knows her flowers by name. Her depictions of friends and family were vivid without being too intrusive. Another memorable aspect of the book was her discussion of the Mafia; she gives harrowing accounts of Mafia violence that make the reader admire the courage and resilience of those who stand up to them.
Margaret D'Anieri
Oct 03, 2013 Margaret D'Anieri rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-misc
Great sense of the place and particularly the history. She is particularly interested in the remnants of Greek mythology that infuse the place, and she should have been a botanist - too much listing of plants. But the variety of people and the differences in place and feel on different parts of the island were captured well for someone who has never been there.
Nov 29, 2009 Lynnnadeau rated it really liked it
I learned more about the agriculture of Sicily and the way that an American woman adapted to running a grape orchard and made wine, and olive oil, and kept very busy with the farm work as she brought up two children through the seasons and the years.
Nov 21, 2011 Trina rated it really liked it
I loved this and only dropped one star because Simeti seems to identify more and more with Persephone in the book -- a bit compulsively I thought. Otherwise her knowledgeable comments about people and places in Sicily are evocative and loving.
Jun 20, 2007 Marilyn added it
Recommends it for: Italian History Buffs
Shelves: booksihaveread
I read a library copy of this book. I am not sure the exact publication date. I found the memior very interesting and went on to read 2 more books by this author. I had just returned from a trip to Sicily when I read this book.
Apr 08, 2015 Marfy rated it really liked it
Shelves: italy, memoir
I read this book while visiting Sicily. It is wonderfully informative and at the same time a personal story that is very moving. Highly recommended.
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