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Monday, February 24, 2014

At Least You're in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life by Jennifer Criswell

Title:  At Least You're in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life

Author: Jennifer Criswell
Gemelli PressLLC (September 28, 2012)
ISBN-13: 9780098210237
Pages: 222 Kindle Edition
How I Read It: ARC copy
Genre: Memoirs, Travel, Non-fiction
My Rating: 3 Crowns

At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life is Jennifer Criswell’s memoir about her first year in Montepulciano during which her dream of expat life meets the reality of everyday challenges and results in sometimes funny, often frustrating, always lesson-filled situations.

Jennifer Criswell’s move from New York City to Tuscany was not supposed to go like this. She had envisioned lazy mornings sipping espresso while penning a best-selling novel and jovial Sunday group dinners, just like in the movies and books about expatriate life in Italy. But then she met the reality: no work, constant struggles with Italian bureaucracy to claim citizenship through her ancestors, and, perhaps worst of all, becoming the talk of the town after her torrid affair with a local fruit vendor.

At Least You’re in Tuscany is the intimate, honest, and often hilarious tale of Jennifer’s first year in Montepulciano. During that time, her internal optimist was forced to work overtime, reminding her that if she were going to be homeless, lonely, and broke, at least she would be all those things—in Tuscany. Jennifer’s mantra, along with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, her willingness to embrace Italian culture, and lessons gleaned from small-town bumbling’s, help her not only build a new, rewarding life in Italy but also find herself along the way.

My thoughts:

I am always attracted to stories of this nature – what would it be like to transplant your life to some exotic destination, such as Tuscany in this case? So when Criswell wrote, “not just picking up roots but planting them in the right spot”, I thought this was a good sign. Not to be.

Would you quit your job, pack your bags, and move to another country – alone - where you knew no one close, hardly spoke the language, understood even less, and where your paperwork entitling you to work was not well down the path of completion? Well, you might. I certainly wouldn't. But that's exactly what Jennifer Criswell did. So this tale of wonderful escapism and wanting to “live in a place where even the birds took time to enjoy the small pleasures of everyday life” very quickly deteriorated into that hilarious episode of “I Love Lucy” Criswell made reference to – “sadly for me my episode didn’t include hiking up my skirt and stomping grapes. Nor was it only half an hour. Or particularly funny.” Her modified mantra of “at least you’re in Tuscany” downgraded to “at least the day is crap in Tuscany” and “at least you have no friends and can’t speak the language in Tuscany.”


I've loved traveling in Italy and feel Criswell certainly captured many realistic attributes of not only the countryside and culture but also life in a small village. Her long struggle to find work made the book seem to drag on, and I kept reading while feeling increasingly disconnected from her. At first, I thought she was twenty-something, because her decisions seemed like so at times, and therefore I was sympathetic and relating to that, especially her arrival in Tuscany before she even got the final papers for a work permit. But when I discovered she was turning forty, it felt like quite an immature and foolhardy thing to do, to travel all that way without really considering everything necessary to make such an enormous life change.

There were funny moments that had you giggling such as “escaping death by toilet on the first night in Italy” and her frozen duvet cover on the clothesline. Ultimately, however, I found myself wishing to get a more positive spin on her overall life lesson – “I learned quickly enough living a dream is very different from having a dream – I was about to meet a whole different me along the way.”

Let’s hope that she likes her new self.

Viewed by Helen

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