I usually read more modern interpretations of Italian life and food (Frances Mayes, John Berendt), so Tomato Rhapsody did require a mental step back in time. Once I jumped back into this world before pasta sauce, it was easy to fall in love with the Tuscan village and it's interesting cast of characters. I was completely pulled into their daily life of market days and traditions like the testosterone and wine-fueled donkey race. The characters are easy to love or hate, and Schell's descriptive words bring to life the Cheese Maker, the Good Padre, and the young lovers.
From a foodie standpoint this book includes some interesting and mouth-watering history such as Mari's experiments with olives and Davido's accidental creation of the first pane pizea. Just reading about Davido's naps among the tomato plants drove me to my garden to soak in the scent of the leaves. Though this book is centered around a love story, it's guaranteed to make you hungry as well.
One thing I really loved was the author's intermingling of Italian words and phrases with English. Other writers feel the need to translate or explain each word, but Schell gives the reader more credit by assuming they can figure it out.
It should be mentioned that this book contains a good amount of crude language and "bawdy humor" as the back cover notes. This might deter some, but I thought it added to the ironic comedy and irreverent feel of the story.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. The writing style can be hard to get used to during the first chapter or two, but it pays off as the story moves to the villagers' poetic speeches and endearing traditions. Schell has many genius one-liners, and I found myself reading parts out loud to my husband because they were too good to keep quiet.
When you read this book just make sure to have some tomatoes nearby; by the time you finish the story you'll want to make some bruschetta.