FEELS LIKE HOME
HEARTH AND HEART ARE INTERWINED IN A ROMANCE READERS WILL RELISH
THE RIGHT PLACE Carla Caruso $29.99 HQ
There’s an old wisdom for fledgling authors: to “write what you know”. Adelaide author Carla Caruso is hardly a novice but the sage advice has infused her latest novel The Right Place with a warmth and insight that can only come from lived experience. It is foremost a love story set in modernday Adelaide, Carla’s home town, drawing on her memories of her Italian grandparents’ market garden, her own homecoming after three years as a fashion editor in Sydney and her love of food. “There’s a lot from my real life in this one,” Carla says. “It’s parts of my life and inspiration from people I know.” It’s easy to suspect a liberal dash of Carla in her sassy heroine Nella Martini who returns from a stalled fashion career and failed relationship in Melbourne to the market garden she is bequeathed by her beloved Nonna. Next door is the leaseholder Adrian, a boy Nella has known all her life. His twin brother was her first love and Adrian is none too happy about Nella’s return, nor her unspoken plans to sell the property, putting his livelihood and heritage in the clutches of developers. “There are a lot of rural romances and I thought ‘why don’t I do the Italian version’ with a bit of a foodie, farming background to it,” Carla says. The market garden is set where her grandparents’ was, along Adelaide’s Marion Road, now a busy traffic corridor with suburbia and light industry replacing the thriving plots of migrant families that dotted the road during her childhood. Adrian has clung to the old ways, making his living growing and delivering tomatoes and other produce to the same customers his late father serviced. When Nella arrives in her unsuitable heels and designer labels, there is instant friction between them. They have little in common except the love for her Nonna, who Adrian believes Nella deserted for the bright lights and a glitzy career. “Yes, there is a bit of me in there,” Carla admits. “Young people can be critical of their home town and it’s only when they return they can appreciate what it has to offer. “There’s no real Adrian (oh, say it isn’t so) but Nonna’s story draws very much from my mum’s mum story.” Intertwined with the modern-day love story is the tale of Esta who arrives in Australia with a young daughter to join her husband and build a life in a foreign land. Carla captures the stoicism, wisdom and unshakeable undercurrent of homesickness that characterised a generation of Australia’s post-war migrants. “My nonna’s heart was sometimes in Italy but her immediate family was all here,” Carla says. The novel is dotted with classic homestyle Italian recipes which weave their way into the narrative and lend a rich authenticity to the tale. “Those come from my mum actually,” Carla says. “They’re probably a bit more modern than my nonnas’. “It’s great to have them there as a record, all in one easy place. I come from a line of good cooks but I like to eat more than I like to cook. The good thing is they’re not really difficult to make. They’re quite simple — even someone like me can master them.” The Right Place is not only a story about love, it is told with love. The quips and insights of second and third generation Italoaustralians are effortlessly incorporated. Many readers of European backgrounds will no doubt recognise some of the familiar themes. The Right Place seems the novel Carla was destined to write, from her early days of asking her kindy teachers to take down the long and detailed stories she was telling them. Her love of writing steered her into journalism and she has written several ebooks and romance novellas. She also has her own foodie blog, theunitalianwife.com, which she juggles with raising twin boys, now five. It is fitting the novel is dedicated to her late nonni, both her father’s and mother’s Italian parents. But, the question remains, how will her large extended family feel about her borrowing some of the family history, not to mention a few character traits they might find familiar? Ah, it is the eternal dilemma of the fiction writer drawing inspiration from real life. She’s about to find out at that most Italian of occasions, a big family wedding. “I don’t know how the aunties and the cousins will feel actually,” she admits. “You don’t know whether they’ve found it strange or not. It can be weird if people see themselves in the characters. “I suppose I’ll find out at the wedding.” The subject for another book no doubt, although her next one is a bit closer to home. It is about the love-hate relationship between three half-italian sisters and, yes, it draws on her relationship with her own two sisters. Treacherous terrain indeed but such is life, or cosi e la vita as the Italians say.
“YOUNG PEOPLE CAN BE CRITICAL OF THEIR HOME TOWN AND IT’S ONLY WHEN THEY RETURN THEY CAN APPRECIATE WHAT IT HAS TO OFFER.