Jacoby Pines arrived in the south of France with his fiancée of two years, six suitcases, and a secret from the previous century. He also had a hangover. Unable to get comfortable during the overnight flight from New York, his plastic cup was repeatedly filled with Burgundy by the Air France flight crew. Claire curled up next to him right after dinner service, and slept for the rest of the flight with her head propped on his shoulder. Five of the six suitcases, the leather Dunhills, belonged to her. Jacoby’s piece of luggage was a crappy Samsonite filled with most of his clothes and a few other belongings, including his secret: a photograph from 1939.
On a bench in the parking lot of the Nice Airport, under a swimming pool sky, Jacoby tried to rub the nagging ache from his temples. Claire stood before him, erect and alert, her long hair, an auburn cascade spanning the slope of her slender back, blazed in the morning sun. She sucked a Gauloises down to its filter, flicked it to the curb and strutted, cocky as a house cat, into the rental car kiosk.
Through the window of the rental office, Jacoby watched Claire’s hands flail as she spoke her fluent French, creasing quick smiles of charm and flashes of occasional impatience, pausing to toss her hair like a cape, gesturing towards the fleet of cars in the lot and the paperwork on the counter that connected her to a young male attendant whom she was surely turning to mush. Jacoby shook his head as Claire rolled out of the kiosk like a goddess of victory with her playful affectations on full parade. Jacoby was awed by her confidence and competence, not to mention her work ethic and ingenuity; he wasn’t crazy about how dependent upon Claire he was, financially and emotionally, and especially since his recent collapse in New York that cost him his job and had brought them to Europe for what was to be a year abroad, of first escape and then recovery: both his. That was the plan, but he had the kind of doubts that kept people up at night, even after way too much wine.
‘Cucina Tipica’ follows Jacoby’s quest to find himself, his purpose and his family. If you enjoy travel writing with a side of self discovery and relationships then you will certainly enjoy this novel. Cotto peppers his detailed descriptions with Italian dialogue; the great thing about this is that it immerses you into the atmosphere and you still follow the gist without speaking the language. Rather than translate or write purely in English, Cotto places the reader into the position of Jacoby, a foreigner who doesn’t understand the language but is experiencing the beauty of the country for the first time.
Jacoby is a young American who finds himself unemployed (through a text message mistake), and after the death of his father finds a photograph of a woman in Italy, the only link to his mother. This sets in motion a journey to Florence with his fiancee (a travel writer) and results in both loss and gain. Jacoby has an extraordinary palette allowing Cotto to take his time over the descriptions of food and wine, as well as the beautiful setting. One thing this novel certainly resulted in, was me wanting to jump on a plane to Florence and re-visit somewhere I haven’t been since my childhood.
Cotto’s characters are lively, believable and draw you into their lives and stories. The addition of Claire creates romance and tension, Dolores brings humour and fun, whilst Bill offers guidance with experience and joy. Yes, this novel is somewhat predictable if you have ever read novels of a similar genre, but that does not distract from the fact that it is a good read. It is entertaining, heart warming and has a few surprise moments to keep the reader interested.