Saturday, November 20, 2010

Extra Virgin by Annie Hawes

Extra VirginSUMMARY (by the publisher): A small stone house deep among the olive groves of Liguria, going for the price of a dodgy second-hand car. Annie Hawes and her sister, on the spot by chance, have no plans whatsoever to move to the Italian Riviera but find naturally that it's an offer they can't refuse. The laugh is on the Foreign Females who discover that here amongst the hardcore olive farming folk their incompetence is positively alarming. Not to worry: the thrifty villagers of Diano San Pietro are on the case, and soon plying the Pallid Sisters with advice, ridicule, tall tales and copious hillside refreshments...


What I liked about this book the most was that, even though Annie Hawes writes about her own experience, her writing is very objective. She does not give in to the temptation of many memoirs’ or travelogues’ writers to only describe themselves and their own culture as the norm and everything else as strange or ridiculous. In her writing about Ligurian life and customs, Hawes includes just the right amount of self-criticism, often accompanied by sarcasm, altogether functioning funny and refreshing.

Thus, Extra Virgin is not just an entertaining book about Hawes’s experience, but also a documentary about a clash of two very different cultures and a proof that differences can complement and enrich people. At first, Hawes and her sister find Ligurians strange and visa versa, and both sides have difficulties understanding one another. Yet, through many funny social mistakes and misunderstandings they get to know each other, and each new resolved mystery about the others’ crazy behaviour brings them closer. 

Generally, Hawes’s writing is a testimony about coexistence of two cultures, both benefitting from it. Two modern English girls learn a lot about farming and get plentiful skills in self-sufficiency and survival, meanwhile they are the first signs of modernization which improves the farmers’ lives, but does not enslave them. 

Overall, Hawes joins modern and traditional, urban and rural, fast and slow rhythm of life into a living the readers can grow fond of and maybe even wish to experience by themselves. I know I do.

RECOMMENDATION: Would you like a short recess in the warm Italian sun? Reading Extra Virgin is the closest thing to it. 


  1. Great review! I like the objectivity you mentioned. I don't like too much subjectivity when reading memoirs or travelogues; there must be a balance. I really like Italy, this might be a read for me. OR, we could take a week off and just go there!:)

  2. @ Irena: I'm all in for it, Icould use a week off:)


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