Before trying her hand as a novelist, Giuseppina Torregrossa (b. 1956, Palermo) enjoyed a 20-year career in Rome as a gynecologist, obstetrician and breast cancer researcher. Women’s issues, both past and present, are therefore at the forefront of her three novels L’assaggiatrice (The Taster) (Iride, 2007; Rubbettino, 2010), Il conto delle minne (The Tale of the Tits) (Mondadori, 2010) and Manna e miele, ferro e fuoco (Manna and Honey, Iron and Fire) (Mondadori, 2011). Also prominent in Torregrossa’s literature is a creative emphasis on the centrality of food to the female experience and themes pertinent to life in her native Sicily. Like many of her contemporaries, Torregrossa incorporates elements of the Sicilian language into her texts to present a more authentic (and, in this case, more flavorful!) portrait of the island. I recently had the opportunity to speak to the author about her writing, the women in her novels and her views on the Sicilian and Italian languages.
Have you always been a writer? Or was your writing inspired by your work with women as a gynecologist?
I have always written since I was a little girl — a passion, a duty, a way to organize my thoughts, to curb and channel my emotions. I started publishing late. My work as a gynecologist helped me a lot; the women in my office recount, talk and bear their emotionality.
Each chapter of L’assaggiatrice begins with a recipe. Did you select the recipes to complement the scenes? Or were there instances in which a particular recipe served as the inspiration for a scene?
L’assaggiatrice was supposed to be a cookbook, but as soon as I started writing a recipe Anciluzza would appear before my eyes. And I can still see her in her shop while she fries eggplant, boils celery and munches on toasted almonds. Then the story thickened like a blancmange, and other characters were born around Anciluzza. Besides, who thinks of cooking caponata for herself?
Like so many contemporary authors from Sicily, you use Sicilian in your writing. What does the Sicilian language mean to you?
Sicilian is the language of my grandmother, of my parents, and it’s also mine. I was born in Sicily, and I lived there until my adolescence. It’s the language of emotions, of passions, of love. Italian is the expressive module of rationality; in Italian I reason, in Sicilian I live.
How would you describe the Italian language?
The Italian language comes from the mixing of the dialects. It’s a very beautiful language, full of nuances and loaded with color. But, as I have already said, I reason in Italian, but I express my emotions in Sicilian.
In L’assaggiatrice, Anciluzza demonstrates great courage in the face of a number of societal restrictions place on her in her roles as wife and mother. Would you say that Anciluzza’s experiences are representative of those of Sicilian women in general?
I would say that they’re representative of women in general. It’s just that in Sicily the restrictions were harsher and they lasted longer. Today, Sicilian women are as free as the women in the rest of the Western world.
What would you like readers to take away from the women in your novels?
The strength, the energy typical of Sicily, the joy of living typical of women, the completely feminine capacity to give of oneself, the masked and concealed audacity of women who reckon with reality.
Note: If you would like to know more about Giuseppina Torregrossa, I urge you to visit her beautiful website at www.giuseppinatorregrossa.com and her Facebook page. Also, take a look at my post on L’assaggiatrice (The Taster), a novel that is every bit as delicious as its name implies.