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‘The Italian Wedding’ by Nicky Pellegrino

(Hachette, $38.99)Don’t pick up this book when you are hungry. You will eat it before you have finished reading it. The very first page has a recipe for melanzane alla parmigiana, which is a cheesy, tomato-y eggplant dish Nicky Pellegrino’s father makes. I have tasted it. I have never been the same since. It is very, very, very delicious. And so is The Italian Wedding, Nicky’s third novel and a tasty testament to her skill at combining oediterranean food, family, drama and romance.

Inspired by the story of how Nicky’s parents met, the book takes us from a simple country village in Italy to the streets of Rome and finally to the Italian enclave of Clerkenwell in London, where the Martinelli family live, work and dream. Twenty-nine-year old Pieta is a London bridal designer who lives at home with her feisty Italian dad, Beppi, her droopy English mum, Catherine, and her restaurateur sister, Addolorata, whose wedding dress she’s making. It’s a typical Italian household – there’s an awful lot of food and arguing, for example – and Papa definitely rules the roost. But when Pieta and her mother spend time together sewing the beads on Addolorata’s wedding gown, Pieta realises her mother wasn’t always a washed-out shell – she once had a sparkle of her own.

As they stitch and sew, Pieta uncovers the secrets that have plagued her family. Her mother, she finds out, once hitchhiked to Rome, where she met her father. She lived in a rooming house full of prostitutes and rode on the back of a Vespa. She swam in the ocean and danced to jukebox music. And she unwittingly caused a rift between Beppi and his best mate that haunts them all still – even Pieta. Especially Pieta. As Addolorata’s wedding day draws closer, the Martinellis seem to be falling apart. Past and present mix and start simmering, but just like a good ragó (and there’s a recipe for that too) the outcome is scrumptious.

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