Mezza Italiana by Zoe Boccabella
Growing up in Brisbane in the 1970s and 80s, Zoë Boccabella knew if you wanted to fit in, you did not bottle tomatoes, have plastic on the hallway carpet, or a glory box of Italian linens. Though she tried to be like 'everyone else', refusing to learn Italian and even dyeing her dark hair blonde, Zoë couldn't shake the unsettling sense of feeling 'half-and-half' - half Australian, ‘mezza italiana’ - unable to fit fully into either culture, or merge the two. Years later, she travels to her family's ancestral village of Fossa in Abruzzo and discovers a captivating place of medieval castles, mystics, serpent charmers and witches. As Zoë stays in the house that has belonged to her family for centuries, the village casts its spell. She begins to realise the significance of her Italian heritage and discovers old family traditions which become a treasured part of her life.
The book starts with a harrowing description of the L’Aquila earthquake of 2009 as it hit Fossa. Then we return to Brisbane to learn about Zoe’s childhood and how her early life was tainted by the racial prejudice she encountered at school. She was taunted her to the point that she rejected her Italian roots and insisted on calling her grandmother ‘nana’ instead of ‘nonna.’
The story flows effortlessly through personal stories, family histories and recipes of traditional food. There are historical accounts of the region and poignant references to Abruzzo life, past and present.
Why I recommend this book
Highly recommended. Not just as an enjoyable read of a young girl’s early life in Australia and subsequent travels abroad but because this is a true account of a life changing journey where she discovers something more than just heritage. As the author puts it, ‘finding your place in the world’. After years of rejecting everything Italian, Zoe finally visits the ancestral home.
“Abruzzo is beautiful. I feel a connection with the place. It made me feel closer to my family, my culture, my ancestry.”
Zoe is a freelance writer, researcher and media adviser
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers. Available on Amazon