Dear Olivia by Mary Contini

Contini's mix of reminiscence and opinion is moving and honest

Book Review by Hamza Khan | 11 Jan 2007
Book title: Dear Olivia
Author: Mary Contini
You may not have heard of Mary Contini, but probably have heard of Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh's premier delicatessen and general fancy brasserie. Contini is a director of the establishment and descendant of its original founders, providing her with ample history and a unique perspective of the Crolla legacy.

Starting in Italy at the turn of the century, this book, a memoir of sorts dedicated to her daughter Olivia, details the extraordinary journey of Contini's grandparents and the struggles they overcame.

This attachment to one family somehow provides empathy for the general history of Italian immigrants in Edinburgh. Never shying from traumatic events like the heartbreaking racism of the Second World War, Contini's mix of reminiscence and opinion is moving and honest.
Unfortunately the writing can be overwrought at times - a description of Alfonso Crolla's "aquiline nose with a glorious dark moustache" is especially jarring and derails the book's opening. However one wonders if this is a deliberate style, given such Mills and Boon-styled writing must hold a similar appeal for this book's prospective buyers, family saga readers.
Like the family deli, Dear Olivia is noble, a little too rich for younger tastes, and probably best for your aunt's Christmas present. [Hamza Khan]
Out Now. Published by Canongate. Cover Price £14.99