At Least You're in Tuscany by Jennifer Criswell

At Least You're in Tuscany is a lively and honest memoir of Italy, a breath of fresh air among others I've read. It displays an intimate portrait of the pulse, the quirks and the realities of a small Tuscan town.

Just as well, the book does not merely wax poetic about the beautiful Tuscan scenery but, more importantly, it attempts to bridge the yawning gap of cultural intricacies and present them in a much closer and understandable light.

After taking a few holiday trips in Italy, Jennifer Criswell decided to finally move to the beautiful hill town of Montepulciano and become a writer. Quite easier said and dreamt than done, but she held on to her mantra; she may be alone and almost running broke but 'at least she's in Tuscany'.

In her first year of stay, adventures, good and bad, await her and even claiming some old Sicilian roots barely helped. There's none about the joys of renovating a villa or the makings of a romantic crossing-continents love scenario here. Instead we are swept by our heroine's maze-like search for a job, struggle for residency and citizenship, greedy landlady and small town gossips.

Yet despite it all, she manages to find genuine neighbors and friendships on unlikely places and spends her days strolling with her beloved dog, Cinder, stopping by her favorite coffee and cheese shops, talking with Italian friends under a stoop and sampling the Tuscan dish. I could definitely say her enthusiasm surpasses everything and it is this bright outlook that also lets her immerse, enjoy and be more accepting of things.

Between a tourist and a native, a lot of things get lost in translation with nothing to bridge it at all. What I like about her accounts is that she was able to put herself in a middle ground as if the usually closed Tuscan curtains (to foreigners) sometimes fall away to reveal its real beauty, welcoming her as part of the place slowly and over time. I think these small glimpses are the highlights of the story for me.

The quaint flowery descriptions and the image of idyllic living, a formulaic way to usually charm readers (including me), isn't strongly present and I like that, too. Criswell presents her Tuscany in an honest note tinged with much realities and simple achievable pleasures, making the journey very relatable and genuinely fun at the same time. I am looking forward to hear more of her avventura.


At Least You’re in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life is Jennifer Criswell’s memoir about her first year in Montepulciano during which her dream of expat life meets the reality of everyday challenges and results in sometimes funny, often frustrating, always lesson-filled situations.

Jennifer Criswell’s move from New York City to Tuscany was not supposed to go like this. She had envisioned lazy mornings sipping espresso while penning a best-selling novel and jovial Sunday group dinners, just like in the movies and books about expatriate life in Italy. But then she met the reality: no work, constant struggles with Italian bureaucracy to claim citizenship through her ancestors, and, perhaps worst of all, becoming the talk of the town after her torrid affair with a local fruit vendor.

At Least You’re in Tuscany is the intimate, honest, and often hilarious tale of Jennifer’s first year in Montepulciano. During that time, her internal optimist was forced to work overtime, reminding her that if she were going to be homeless, lonely, and broke, at least she would be all those things—in Tuscany. Jennifer’s mantra, along with a healthy dose of enthusiasm, her willingness to embrace Italian culture, and lessons gleaned from small-town bumbling, help her not only build a new, rewarding life in Italy but also find herself along the way.

Title: At Least You're in Tuscany: A Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life
Author: Jennifer Criswell
Genre: Memoir, Cultural, Non Fiction
Published: September 2012
Publisher: Gemelli Press
Rating: ♨♨♨ 1/2 (3 and half cups - Quite relatable with intimate portraits of a small Italian town. A closer look into the many faces of Tuscany.)