The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella.
Other Foodie novels by Anthony:
The Food of Love
The Various Flavors of Coffee
The Empress of Ice Cream
The Wedding Officer, set in Naples,1944 after the Allies have pushed out the Nazis, immediately caught my interest. My father had been stationed in Naples at the war’s end and my Dad's bedtime stories told me about the war, his love of the Italian people and their cities.
Like my dad, British officer James Gould arrives in Naples towards the end of the war. His job was Marriage Officer, that is, to prevent British soldiers marrying Italian women.
James' new position has layers of difficulties: the existence of the black market, organized crime and extensive poverty. Food is a precious commodity. The soldiers, dissatisfied with unappetizing rations, also yearn for meals filled with remembrance of home and family.
Enter the young, beautiful chef and recent widow, Livia Pertini. From local vegetables, cheese and the occasional meat, she transforms meals and lives as she cooks for British and American soldiers. James becomes enamored of her good food and of Livia. We read that when an individual is “… at peace with the world, he’s happy, and more importantly, he wants other people to be happy.” James’ happy stomach transforms him.
"Food’s healing power is a particularly Italian philosophy, and one which would be anathema to the British military. So I guess by setting up that theme when I do, I’m letting the reader know that James is going to be brought into a culture clash that will involve him in split loyalties,” Anthony told me in our email interview.
Our author fell in love with Italy early in his life. “My first visit to Italy was as an 18 year old – a very impressionable age! I went to teach English in Roma one summer and stayed with a woman called Livia….”
Anthony Capella's scenes of food shopping in open markets make our mouths water-- the food is simple and the flavors intense. Seasoning the entire novel is Chef Livia’s love of fresh food and her exacting preparation. Anthony explained, “It’s about taking food seriously, and showing respect for the traditions of the past, and also respect for the cook. Livia’s culinary strictness is one of the first signs we have that she’s probably tougher than James. And of course, Italians really do have lots of ‘rules’ about eating.”
Our author said to me that cookbooks (and cooking) teach us a lot about life. Food drives the plot and character development along in this and his other foodie lit books. And James’ life changes direction through the food Livia prepares.
Anthony writes with authority about food preparation. Ok, so I admit I was shocked when he confessed to me that he didn’t cook. How could I have been so deceived? I was assuaged when Anthony told me that he loves the cookbooks of Marcella Hazan and Claudia Roden. I included one of Marcella Hazan's most famous recipes, known for its utter simplicity, a recipe Livia would have loved.
Livia's cooking, simple and intense, is also sensual. James cannot get enough of her cooking. “It was extraordinary. He had never tasted anything like it—certainly not in the long years of rationing, but not even before that .…Come to that, he had never in his life eaten pepper that was freshly ground, not cheese that coated one’s food like this in a thick white waterfall…teasing his appetite awake again, the intensity of its flavors bringing to life taste buds he had never even known existed.”
Makes you just want to run to the kitchen.