See Naples and Die by Penelope Green

See Naples and Die by Penelope Green

“A man should be like prosciutto: not too fat, not too skinny, not too beautiful, not too ugly.”

I’ve actually read this book before, but decided to I needed a good travel literature style book to come along with me to Thailand. The thing about travel is that I find I don’t have all that much time to read, but I’m also always in a situation where there’s a lot of waiting time (waiting for flights, buses, during travel time or even if you’re sick and stuck in the hostel or hotel room, and eating dinner alone).

So the beauty of taking a book I had already read before meant I could put it down at any time and pick it up whenever I wanted without the hassle of remembering where I was up to or being annoyed about my story being interrupted.

Penelope Green is also one of my favourite travel literature writers and I had been eyeing this book on the shelf for re-read for a few weeks. I just felt like I needed the taste of Italy again with the weather warming up the way it has been.

Green, in her late 20s, decided to give up her successfuly journalism career in Sydney and move to Italy. See Naples and Die is the second book in the three book series she wrote about her five years in Italy, the first being When in Rome and the third Girl By Sea. You don’t have to read all three to understand each novel, but it probably helps to get the whole story.

What I like best about Green’s writing above most other travel literature stories, is:

  1. She’s already a writer – so it’s not one of those one-off stories about someone who has travel and decided to turn it into a story, which I sometimes find annoying because their writing skills are limited. Green really knows how to work the craft, which makes her an entertaining storyteller.
  2. She kicked off her adventure during her late 20s – not that it’s a crime, but a lot of travel literature is told by those in their 20s. People who are having a crisis right out of university and are running away from their responsibilities before they even have any. I found Green’s story very easy to connect with because I was about the age she was in the story when I picked up her books. By 28, you’re already forging a decent career path, you’re earning good money by then, you might have investments or property or that pesky biological clock ticking. It’s much harder to give all that up than it is for someone who’s 22 and hasn’t really started the career path yet.
  3. She doesn’t just write about her life – you get a real sense of the world around her when she’s writing, especially in this particular novel. It’s not just about working and living in Naples, she delves into the gritty background and underbelly of the Naples mafia – the Camorra. Her stories don’t just skim the surface.

What I also love about Green’s writing is her ability to describe that when you’re in a foreign country, for some reason, the rules of the world back home don’t apply. You find yourself doing this you wouldn’t consider doing at home (for example, when I was in Thailand I didn’t think twice about jumping on the back of a motorbike without a helmet or any kind of protective clothing that would keep my skin to my body in the event of coming off. Yet, in Australia, because my boyfriend is a bike rider, I know all too well about what the damage can be if a rider or pillion comes off).

But most of all, I’m in love with her story of Naples and I love that she always finds a way to include the recipes she’s taught by the local mammas around her. And her ability to remember and include the beautiful quotes that come at her from the locals; favourite being from one man who said, “He seemed good, you know, made from good pasta”, when introduced to her new boyfriend.

I like stories that teach you something, and after reading this book, I’m curious to learn even more about the Camorra and have already bought a copy of book a mention by Green called Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano. Saviano is a Naples native, and reporter and his writing exposes the Camorra’s territory and business connections.

If you get the chance, I highly recommend reading anything by Penelope Green (although I think, outside her work as a journalist, these are the only books she’s written). This is the kind of travel literature I always come looking for when I need to do some armchair travel.

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