A poignant and transporting cross-cultural love story set against the lush backdrop of the Sicilian countryside, where one woman discovers the healing powers of food, family, and unexpected grace in her darkest hour.
It was love at first sight when Tembi met professional chef, Saro, on a street in Florence. There was just one problem: Saro’s traditional Sicilian family did not approve of him marrying a black American woman, an actress no less. However, the couple, heartbroken but undeterred, forges on. They build a happy life in Los Angeles, with fulfilling careers, deep friendships and the love of their lives: a baby girl they adopt at birth. Eventually, they reconcile with Saro’s family just as he faces a formidable cancer that will consume all their dreams.
From Scratch chronicles three summers Tembi spends in Sicily with her daughter, Zoela, as she begins to piece together a life without her husband in his tiny hometown hamlet of farmers. Where once Tembi was estranged from Saro’s family and his origins, now she finds solace and nourishment—literally and spiritually—at her mother in law’s table. In the Sicilian countryside, she discovers the healing gifts of simple fresh food, the embrace of a close knit community, and timeless traditions and wisdom that light a path forward. All along the way she reflects on her and Saro’s incredible romance—an indelible love story that leaps off the pages.
In Sicily, it is said that every story begins with a marriage or a death—in Tembi Locke’s case, it is both. Her story is about loss, but it’s really about love found. Her story is about travel, but it’s really about finding a home. It is about food, but it’s really about chasing flavor as an act of remembrance. From Scratch is for anyone who has dared to reach for big love, fought for what mattered most, and needed a powerful reminder that life is…delicious.
As an actor, I started my onscreen career with the iconic comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Today you can find me in roles on The Magicians, Proven Innocent, NCIS: LA to name a few or on the big screen in the upcoming feature film, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson (2019). I love my acting career and, at the center of my work on set, there is always a commitment to story and the complexity of being human.
My writing life took root at a very young age. In third grade, I wrote a short story about a girl with a magical blanket. My mom loved it and, well, I was off to the races. I journaled and I took writing classes for my own personal growth and expression. But when I lost my husband, Saro, after long battle with cancer, the narrative of my life and all that writing began to feel like a memoir. Now, my first book, From Scratch, comes to bookstores in 2019. I couldn’t be more thrilled You might say my advocacy work began with my parents. They always tried to encourage me to do my part in realizing a more just and humane world. Today, my advocacy is grounded in the very personal experience of caring for and losing someone I love. I advocate for better care for caregivers and families. I speak on loss, resilience and connection when it matters most. I’ve given a TEDx talk, keynotes around the country and am an ambassador to organizations doing the vital work of changing our systems and society for the better. When I’m not writing or working on set, you’ll often find me in the kitchen cooking with my daughter. Home is the place we reconnect, catch up on movies and books. And we cook lots of Sicilian food inspired by my late husband and our home away from home, Sicily. Each summer we travel there to power down, take long walks and eat a ridiculous amount of gelato seaside to the gorgeous Mediterranean. Because, as one of my favorite Sicilian writers, Leonardo Sciascia, said, “all of Sicily is a dimension of the imagination.”
My actual stars would be much lower but I feel it's unfair to judge a book just because it's a type of book I dislike. It was beautifully written and full of description that makes you want to be there. The issue is that I don't read books to make myself sad. There is enough sadness in the world without choosing to immerse yourself in it. Others love these books and I didn't want my taste to taint the rating of a beautiful book.
Not even a month into the new year and I’m confident this will be one of my favorite reads of 2021. In From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, Tembi Locke shares her love story, which began when she bumped into Sicilian chef, Saro, while she was living and studying in Florence.
Saro’s family doesn’t approve of him marrying a Black American woman but this doesn’t stop the couple, including a wedding in Sicily with Tembi’s Texan family in attendance. Tembi and Saro build their life together, living in LA, where she is an actress, he a chef, and together raising their daughter, Zoela.
The couple is able to reconcile with Saro’s family though I couldn’t help but feel negatively toward the them for a good portion of the book, for opting out of time together — What a privilege to be able to see your children happy. Ultimately, Saro faces multiple battles with cancer and passes away.
From Scratch chronicles not only Tembi’s love story, but her journey of grief over the course of 3 summers spent in Sicily visiting her mother in law. Tembi finds solace through food, family, and community.
”I wanted to know what will become of the people, places, and things that have meant something to me. I wanted to learn something new from someone I have yet to meet. And I wanted to be able to know that I could see unspeakable pain and know that it, too, would change me but not undo me. I wanted to journey to beyond where my eye can see and greet the self who carried me forward to get there.”
Tembi is a wonderful writer with beautiful words — I loved reading this story.
I really wanted to like this, to connect with someone else who has felt grief, but it fell incredibly flat. The way it was written, I wasn't able to connect with the characters, and there was no plot. It was simply a sad woman who ate pasta. I expected to follow their love story and then feel the loss, grieving alongside Tembi, but it never happened.
From the shores of California to an island in the Mediterranean, FROM SCRATCH is a rich, sensual reading experience. Equal parts uplifting and devastating, it is a memoir of soul-searching beauty. As extraordinary and unique as Tembi Locke's life is, all readers will identify with the themes of love, family, and forgiveness. Highly recommended.
Beautiful writing and narration by the author. I visited Sicily in May 2019 and the author's descriptions brought it all flooding back. Sicily has everything, beautiful vistas, gorgeous beaches, amazing architecture, delicious food & wine, & wonderful characters! As I listened, I scribbled quotes on various scraps of paper, such as junk mail envelopes. I wrote on anything I had to hand when I heard something that twanged my heart strings. However, I appear to have mislaid most of them around my home. So, here is one of the quotes that so moved me: "it was clear that being with Saro had been like weaving a beautiful complicated tapestry. After his death, being with his family was like looking at the flip side of that tapestry, the stitching showed, the bulky knots, the places where the fringe had frayed but it was still part of the same beautiful piece." 9/26/19 Found another quote: "He was kryptonite sprinkled on a pizza, my personal weakness."
This memoir shares the cross-cultural love story between an actress and a chef. The couple had to fight for their love as the chef’s traditional Sicilian family did not approve of him marrying a black American woman actress.
I listened to this on audio which was narrated by the author herself. Hearing her story through her own voice made this book more impactful for me and I am glad I listened to it rather than read it.
While I enjoyed this and appreciated learning of this couples story, I failed to fully connect. I did shed a few tears along the way, but I wasn’t as greatly impacted by the story as I had anticipated. I think part of this is due to the fact that I’m not one who enjoys cooking (although I LOVE eating!) and this book is largely centred around ingredients and cooking. The chef’s family shows their love through cooking and often has deep conversations through food where words are not necessary.
Overall, an interesting and enjoyable audiobook that I am glad I listened to. Thank you to my lovely local library for the audio loan!
Audio rating: 5 stars! The author narrating this book added a personal and emotional layer to this beautiful story!
How do I begin to write a review to do this beautiful book justice? I feel like I’ve gotten an education on Sicilian culture, cuisine, and a front row seat in Tembi’s experience of losing the love of her life. My heart is full, and aching with how real the fragility of life is, and how we should cherish every moment with our spouses and loved ones. To actually live life and do things instead of being absorbed in our phones.
My goodness, the food!! I want to cook and smell and experience all the scents, tastes and the sights that were described. I love every part of this book from front to back. I love how we started with a family that was closed off to outsiders (Tembi being an African American women), to a blended family woven together in a fabric so rich, vibrant and beautiful—stitched together with pain and loss. This is easily one of my fave books of 2021, and I know I’m jumping on late to the game, but better late than never.
I loved the audio as it was done by Tembi Locke, the author and who this story was about. I appreciate her realness, openness and her voice that rang strong and true all throughout the story. What a breathtaking book! I will cherish my hardback forever. I love this interracial/multicultural romance x1,000! Sicily and America forever ♾
[4+] Loss is threaded throughout this beautifully written memoir. While studying in Italy, the author, a Black American, fell in love with her Sicilian future husband, who later dies. So it is very sad - but I also found it infused with warmth and love and delicious food. I was captivated by the stories about how Tembi met Saro and about their daughter. I especially loved how she forged a bond with her mother-in-law and connected with her husband's Sicilian heritage.
What I thought this book was going to be about and what it actually was about were two entirely different things. I was expecting more of a culinary, upbeat, overcoming loss memoir. What it read as was a grieving, never ending, jilted story of a wife losing her husband (which I knew was a core part of the synopsis). I felt everything else was an afterthought. There were parts I couldn't wait to be over because she went on and on and on in a way that I couldn't empathize or connect with. Her writing style came across as her trying way too hard to write lyrically, and it didn't feel right to me. Personal preference perhaps. The time hops didn't make sense to me either. I would have much preferred a chronologically written memoir so I could invest in the family and their relationships. Instead I never connected and honestly couldn't wait for it to be over.
I will say right off that I am not a memoir person. I was drawn to this one primarily because of the location, Sicily, and well food was in the title.I love reading about food from different regions. I knew it would be about love and loss as well, but I didn’t realize that that would be such a large portion of this story. This book is about Tembi and Saro’s love and their struggles once he was diagnosed with cancer. His death was heartbreaking to Tembi and their daughter, Zoela. How does one cope with the loss of the love of your life? How were Tembi and her daughter able to move forward? This is what this memoir explores. What I loved most in the book was getting to know Saro’s mother. She was so much like my own mother, that it brought joy to my heart. My mother was from Southern Italy- Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples. Like Saro’s mother, she never drank, she never wore pants, she always had new nightgowns ready in case she ever had to go to the hospital. She loved to cook and feed people:) One more similarity: Saro’s Mom , like mine believed that a pregnant woman should never say no to a craving, most especially if the food is right there. If you say no, then touch an area of your body, your child will be born with a birthmark.. Saro had a darker area on one of his buttocks and his Mom blamed it on the fact that she turned down a coffee while she was pregnant with him. Then she leaned on that side of her body and he got a birthmark. When I was pregnant with my first child, I went to visit my Mom. I gained 7 lbs in 2 weeks, as she made me eat everything that I saw that I said something positive about. Loved that connection.
Another tidbit- my husband and I ate at the restaurant , Aqua al Duo, where Saro was the chef. We were there after he left but I loved the connection.
I feel that the book started really strong and ended well, but it was quite repetitive and inflated through the middle. I listened to this on audio and the author, who is an actress, did a great job with the reading.
Probably would have given this book 2 stars, except that the writing really is beautiful. It just wasn't what I expected. This is a memoir about loss, period. If that's what you're here for, then you will likely get a lot out of it, but it wasn't what I was hoping for at this particular moment in my life.
“That morning I wanted nothing more than to know that it was possible for me to feel alive, fully alive again. The half living of life after loss was shifting. I wanted to be reminded of the bounty of life...”
Oh this precious little book touched my heart. I was tearing up at the prologue. Through Tembi’s words you can feel the love she has for her family.
I know first hand the challenges of learning to navigate the world again as a mom and widow so this book really hit home for me.
I laughed. I cried. I felt like I had traveled to Italy and ate all this delicious food. It was the beautiful blending of two cultures through love and loss. I highly recommend this unforgettable memoir.
What a beautiful tribute to love in all its forms, even the love you still feel when you are mourning. That love is its own kind of love, as true, as powerful, as life-shaping as the kind you'd easily been able to express before everything changed. I loved especially these lines on p. 176. "...throughout life, we revisit the empty spaces. That was her understanding of grief. That we are always trying to reconcile memory with reality..." This is what it means to grieve; to cherish still every memory within this new, raw and uncharted reality. Tembi's memoir is perfectly structured, exquisitely rendered, achingly beautiful...
This was an assignment from Reese W and Hello, Sunshine! Good thing, too, because this is not one I would have picked up and read, given my own choosing algorithms. But this was an interesting story, with all the happy accidents that result in real living (as opposed to fictionally contrived situations to fit plot points), full of crazy coincidences for which we make up plots, intervening characters engaged in divine and/or devilish interferences, with promises of happy endings, or dire dooms.
More than anything this put me in a contemplative mood – thinking semi-dark thoughts wrapped in various themes of “all beginnings have an end.” George Carlin once said “It’s inevitable when you buy the pet. You’re supposed to know it in the pet shop. It’s going to end badly. You are purchasing a small tragedy.” That’s got to be true about every one of our relationships, from the most precious to the ones about which we are most indifferent. So . . . .is the business of life the educating all of us about transitions and reconciling ourselves to being in the moment, and then just as wholly, moving on? Moving on with history that is not allowed to overwhelm or overlimit? So difficult to box up meanings, but beyond the telling of a love/life story, this is my take-away from Ms. Locke’s book.
Still pondering on it, and have picked up a few more books with similar themes. . . .maybe my algorithms need tweaking. Or not.
Lovely writing – about her travels, family dynamics and how wacky those can be, the many forgivenesses time helps with in that area, and lots and lots of Sicilian cooking, tastes and pleasures. 3.5 stars from me.
I wanted to love this book. Sicily, food, culture, family, love .. but unfortunately I did not. The story was too drawn out, too much forced drama. There were parts that made me smile, other parts I rolled my eyes. I wish I loved it. I just didn’t feel it.
I am sure writing this book was cathartic for Ms. Locke. At least I hope it was. For me, I felt like I spent a book reading about her complaining about things that only someone with privilege could complain about. Yes, there were some racial issues and I am not diminishing the difficulties in losing a spouse; however, when someone spends pages explaining how gorgeous it is while they are able to spend summers mourning their husband’s passing in Sicily, those issues seem a bit less pressing. So, just not the book for me.
The love story of Tembi and Saro is one of passion, commitment, and everlasting love. Not since Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” have I been so moved by a book.. Tembi Locke conveys passion and sincerity which is deeply felt on each and every page. It is articulate, vulnerable and full of symbolism. I could not put this book down and highly recommend it.
Please note: I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review which I have provided here.
Genre: Memoir Publisher: Simon & Schuster Pub. Date: April 30, 2019
I usually feel apprehensive when beginning a memoir. There are hundreds of memoirs written, usually ghostwritten, often from those in the entertainment business. Tembi Locke is an actress and I wondered if I was in for a poorly written, vanity book. From the first sentence, I knew this was not going to be the case. “In Sicily, every story begins with a marriage or a death.” I was already hooked.
The author is an African American from Texas. Besides being a mom and an actress, she is also an activist. She meets her future Sicilian husband, Saro when she is in college and doing a semester in Italy. He is a chef who was born, lives, and works in a part of the world that holds onto their traditions with a firm grasp. Even though the couple has their wedding reception in Italy, his parents do not attend. His father has forbidden anyone in his family from attending because his son is marrying a black, non-catholic woman. Her parents gladly attended, arriving in full Texan gear while dancing the Harlem Shuffle at the reception. The author gives you enough information to make you wonder, how could this bi-racial, cross-cultural couple make it? Yet, “He soothed the places I hadn't known needed soothing… Together we had engaged life as two forks eating off one plate.” Tembi writes as if her marriage was a great love affair. “Our undoing was cancer…Pain is part of life. That much I knew.” However, she makes it clear that nothing could prepare her for the years of caretaking and the crippling grief once Saro dies from the disease. The entire book might have been an exercise in catharsis. If so, she made it work.
When Tembi returns to Sicily to bury Saro’s ashes, she develops a new bond with her mother-in-law through the Sicilian food they prepare in Saro’s parents’ tiny kitchen. She writes, “Cooking is about surrender.” In the tradition of “Like Water For Chocolate,” “Scratch” is a recipe book and love story that is told through cooking a meal. Tembi and her daughter come to spend their summers in Sicily and she embraces the slow-paced lifestyle. One of her favorite chores is after a meal, joining the other village women to shake out their tablecloths—in the middle of the road—so not to attract ants into their home. The author comes to know and understand her late husband’s family. Okay, there are some “Godfather” jokes, but in the end, a Sicilian neighbor, who does not understand a syllable of English, tells her family that their daughter, Tembi, “is one of us.” As Tembi says, “Sicily was the water and sun that fortified me to stand stronger in my life after loss.”
Locke’s memoir immediately reveals to the reader that she is a powerful storyteller. She fills her book with sensory experiences of Sicily. “The hot air was pregnant with jasmine and eucalyptus.” Although the lyrical prose is glorious, I sometimes found that the vivid imagery throughout the memoir took over her story. I would have enjoyed reading less poetry on the wonders of Sicily (to be fair she also educates her readers on its history) and learned more about the details of her married life in America, which seems to have been skipped over. I’m guessing this was done on purpose since the author’s tale is really about the salve that she found in Sicily. Also, sometimes, the connection between food and kitchen wisdom was a bit too overplayed. But, who am I to contradict her memories and healing process? I devoured this book. Once finished, I could not wait to celebrate life by going into my own kitchen to boil water for pasta. The author’s soul-searching words make for a heartfelt memoir that is part devastating, part uplifting, and always a beautiful tribute to life and love.
Misleading synopsis led me to this memoir. If you are looking for a cross cultural love story, keep looking. The poor guy who met and married the author is little more than a footnote for this 300+ page whinefest.
There was enough information about Italy and the hapless husband to keep me reading, hoping for the story of their interracial, intercultural marriage but it never appears. Instead, we get ringside seats for a middle aged woman who deals with the loss of a loved one like a teenager. And I forgave that, because we all grieve differently.
But then page after page the narrative repeats the same pattern:
any character: something about their life or feelings
author: "that's interesting. I know because MY feelings are similar"
and we're off for 4 pages of more self absorbed whining.
The world continued turning as the author grieved, but she seems really annoyed that happened. We learn almost nothing about the years of her marriage, the life or death of her father in law, their life after their daughter joined the family, or anything else that isn't about the author, the author's feelings, how inconvenienced the author was by having to care for other people, and how upset the author was by being widowed because somehow she never seemed to notice it had ever happened to anyone else.
I got more and more annoyed as I read and the tone escalated to new highs of self absorbed cluelessness; having to deal with some really awkward and unclear writing just finished me off.
3.5. I think that Reese and I do not have the same taste. This is the second of her book club picks that I felt was just ok. Parts of this were wonderful, beautifully written, moved me to tears. But large sections were slow and a little too sentimental. There were meant times I was counting the pages to see when it would end. I intimately know grief and I’ve read other books that fully embrace the experience and strongly echoed my experience. This was not that book.
A beautifully written testament of accepting life with all that life has to give, of love .....love for another human being, love for parents, love for children and love for one's origins and birth place....
"She had said so many things, things that were hard to hear, harder still to push through. Things the therapist and books all said were very normal. When those moments happened, when the grief was too big and it threatened to buckle the frame of the house, we'd often go to the back yard of our house and lie on the grass, put our bodies prostrate on the earth. On the blanket looking at the stars, I would tell her to give her hurt to the stars. They could take it. I told her she could say anything to them. She could cry, she could scream, she could curse, anything she felt. She often said only one thing: "Babbo, you should not have left me.”
I have unintentionallly put myself through the emotional ringer this month reading so many back to back books regarding death and grief, but it has turned out to be an incredibly cathartic experience for me. When I read the above passage from Tembi Locke’s emotional memoir, it immediately brought tears to my eyes because it is something that I think is always on your lips when you lose a parent... whether you are coping as a 7 year old daughter or a daughter who is 42... we think “you should not have left me." We want our loved ones to always be with us, and no matter how old we are, it always seems incomprehensible and unbearable when it comes time to have to say goodbye.
From Scratch is the heartbreakingly, gorgeous debut that Reese Witherspoon selected as her May read for her Hello Sunshine Book Club pick. It is a meditation on love, family, loss, and navigating overwhelming grief. It is an honest testament of what is is like to care for someone with a terminal illness, and highlights the struggle of adjusting to becoming a family of 2 instead of 3.
And then there’s the food. I LOVED how food was infused all through out this story. Here in the South, food is definitely a love language and I related so much to the scenes where Tembi and her in-laws come together and find comfort and connection in the kitchen. But most of all, this book is a love letter to those we cherish and who leave us too soon. All the stars.
This was the perfect book for me to read during a week in Italy. Not only is it set largely in Sicily, but it ticks a lot of boxes in terms of my reading interests: food, travel, bereavement, and the challenges of being an American overseas. During a semester abroad in Florence, Tembi Locke (an actress I was previously unfamiliar with) met and fell in love with Saro Gullo, an Italian chef. His parents could hardly accept him marrying someone from outside of Sicily, let alone a black woman from Texas, and refused to attend their wedding. But as the years passed they softened towards Locke, who gradually became accepted in Saro’s hometown of Aliminusa.
In fact, after Saro’s death from bone cancer in 2012, she became like a second daughter to Saro’s mother; the book focuses on the three summers in a row when she and her adopted daughter Zoela traveled to the family home in Sicily to stay with Nonna. That first year they brought over some of Saro’s ashes, and though in each year that followed the sadness hadn’t truly dissipated, there was still, somehow, more joy in the simplicity of the Sicilian way of life, in her hard-won acceptance into a new family, and in food prepared with love. As an expat, I particularly appreciated the exploration of what it’s like to live between countries and cultures; Locke does a wonderful job of presenting the extreme differences between L.A., where she lives, and Sicily without judgment (i.e., implying that one is better than the other). It’s an honest, sad yet hopeful memoir, and there are even recipes! I plan to order it for my sister as soon as we get home from our vacation.
A favorite passage:
“The food from Nonnas kitchen told a story, an epic and personal story of an island and a family. It told the story of poverty, grief, love, and joy. ... Her food spoke of malleability and resourcefulness in loss, in love, and in life. She had learned how to turn subsistence living into abundance.”
From Scratch is a beautiful story that moves through love, loss and moving on. While sad and heartbreaking, it is also a testament to love, family and community.
We meet Saro and witness a very moving romance between him and Tembi. The love they share is so strong that it overcomes thousands of miles of separation. When Saro becomes ill, their love provides strength and courage. The writing is exceptional and lyrical. The descriptions of the food and scenery are wonderful. I highly recommend From Scratch.
I loved this book. It appealed to me on many levels, I am of Italian heritage and my husband also died from cancer. I thought her writing was beautiful and the feelings expressed were so real and spot on when it comes to caregiving, and grief. It is also a story about healing and the love of family. And the food, Tembi had my mouth watering on so many occasions. I was so happy to see the included recipes! I plan on trying a lot of them. Wonderful debut novel!