Italian Party

"Italy,” wrote E.M. Forster, “is only a euphemism for fate.” So it is in Christina Lych’s sun-drenched debut novel. Mixing the glamour of Italy and the nostalgia of post-war American aesthetics, the Italian Party balances Aperolic fun with cultural and historical thoughtfulness.

It’s 1956, and Micheal, the Yale man, is not really in Italy to sell shiny Ford tractors to Italian farmers. He’s there as an undercover CIA operative, set out to destroy the local communist party in Sienna. Scottie, his new wife, is not privy to this information, and she has her own reasons for jumping out of her college life and into a marriage with a relative stranger. And strangers the newlyweds remain, until their secrets begin to slip out to each other and to the alternately rowdy and mysterious people they meet along their way.

Most remarkable to me was the group of Italian women Scottie is helped by in a desperate moment. For all of Scottie’s personal and national secrets, Scottie and the women see each other with a deep understanding that goes beyond language and culture. Also in the cast of characters is the vulnerable Robertino, a teenager working as an asset for Micheal under the guise of an Italian tutor for Scottie. There are the men who attempt to seduce Scottie and the one who has a chance at succeeding. And there is Duncan, an American diplomat who Micheal rendezvous with in Rome for something a bit more than briefing. The ending reveals vast variety of ways that we need each other— not always the ways we expect at the beginning and never easily packaged.

I enjoyed my time in Italy with Scottie and Micheal, hopping on and off Vespas and horses, unpacking boxes of enamel kitchen appliances, and ducking into villas and cafés. If you’re looking for an escape from your escape — to get out from under Shadow Mountain and into the Tuscan Sun — you will love this book!