Title: One Italian Summer
Author: Pip Williams
Publisher: Affirm Press
Published: 30th March 2021
Synopsis: Pip and Shannon dreamed of living the good life. They wanted to slow down, grow their own food, and spend more time with the people they love. But jobs and responsibilities got in the way: their chooks died, their fruit rotted, and Pip ended up depressed and in therapy. So they did the only reasonable thing – they quit their jobs, pulled the children out of school and went searching for la dolce vita in Italy.
One Italian Summer is a warm, funny and often poignant story of a family’s search for a better way of living in the homes and on the farms of strangers. Pip sleeps in a woodshed, feasts under a Tuscan sun, works like a tractor in Calabria and, eventually, finds her dream – though it’s not at all the one she expected.
When Pip Williams and her husband, Shannon, grew disillusioned with their life in the Adelaide Hills, they pulled their sons, Aidan and Riley out of school to spend four months travelling around Italy as WWOOFers – Willing Workers on Organic Farms. During this time, they lived an itinerant lifestyle out of packs, often in accommodation that wasn’t ideal and living on a very small budget in between farms. Yet it also allowed them to have experiences that are unique, at times frustrating, yet are experiences that will teach them and their sons new things and open their eyes up to a new way of life and bring new friends into their lives.
From Rome to Venice, and to Tuscany, and several places in between, on a never-ending gelato hunt as well, the Pip and her family explore the road not taken, one that might not be right for everyone, yet for them, was something that they found invigorating and educational. In leaving their fast-paced lives in Australia, filled with the mundanity of work and school, their travels around Italy are carefree and slow, and illustrate what life can be like. As they learn to deal with different kinds of people, some they’ll forever be friends with, and others they won’t, their journey will teach them to cherish each other, and make time for the small things, and to embark on their dreams.
Many people will know Pip Williams for her debut novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words, which recently won the Australian Independent Bookseller ‘Indie Book of the Year’ recently – I still have to read my copy! But Pip wrote One Italian Summer first, and it was initially published in 2017, also by Affirm Press, with this edition reissued this year. We’ve all spent a year in various states of lockdown and restrictions during the pandemic across the world, and even in Australia, where we’ve been lucky, there have been times these have differed between states. So we haven’t been able to travel much – and books have been a way we can.
Whilst most people might have travelled fictional worlds, it is memoirs like these that are delightful, poignant and bittersweet – they allow us to spread our wings and venture into a pre-COVID world where we’d travel without a second thought. Where we didn’t have to plan every step of an outing in some instances. It reminds us of a carefree time before the virus changed our lives worldwide, and in getting to live this life, even just through reading, it allows us to experience it, to imagine ourselves doing it, and to dream about going to places like Italy one day, even if we don’t do it as WWOOFers.
Pip’s lyrical prose is about more than just the journey and her experiences – it is about family and friends, and the small things that unite us and change us, and the people we meet and spend time with. It is about life and what we make of it, and what we do to get through it. This is one of those books that is slow and meditative. That one could spend days reading, yet at the same time, I was desperate to know about the next part of the family’s journey, and what happened. Did they stay in touch with any of the families who hosted them? Did the boys ever find the Pokémon gelato they were told they’d find in Italy? And the most pressing question – what did Pip and Shannon do with their lives when they got home? This memoir about travel and family, and focusing on what is important is sure to be enjoyed by a wide range of readers, and reignite a love of travel – when we can finally do so.