There is a time-honored principle taught in every journalism school – “write what you know.” Every successful author has followed that advice as well, and why not? If you write about the people you encounter on an everyday basis and the places you live in and visit, your writing comes alive – and that is what makes any book engaging.
Suzanne Hoffman is clearly a believer in writing about people, places and events she knows. We saw this a few years ago with her excellent book Labor of Love: Wine Family Women of Piemonte, a non-fiction account of some of the most famous wine estates in Piemonte and how several generations of women worked – sometimes struggled – to grow grapes and make wines in the cellars.
Now Hoffman has given us her latest book Angel of Alta Langa: A Novel of Love and War, a work of fiction that takes the reader to Piemonte, covering a period from 1918 to 1945. As you might imagine from the title and those dates, both World Wars are the background of several Piemontese families (as well as one Sicilian family and one in Germany) during this critical time.
As this is a sprawling epic that deals with dozens of characters, Hoffman wisely includes three pages at the beginning of the book that lists the cast of characters; this greatly helps the reader. Moreover she also has added a timeline of events of this almost thirty-year period, which gives the events that take place greater meaning (Musslolini’s edicts are an important part of the lives of the fictional Giordano family of Turin, both for the parents and their children).
Getting back to the topic of writing about what you know, Hoffman understands and loves Piemonte and its people. She has spent a great deal of time there, making hundreds of contacts, and her love and knowledge of the area emerges throughout the book, as with her passages of the celebratory lunches that take place with winery families in Barbaresco and elsewhere in the area. Her descriptions of the foods – in English and Italian (there is an Italian glossary at the end of the book) that will have you thinking you are seated at one of these tables (or at least wishing you were!).
Her writing is very descriptive and accurate. Here is a brief excerpt:
“During summer, each rumble of thunder, each heavy rain pummeling the tin roofs of the cantine, triggered anxiety in Barbaresco. Summer tempests careened over the Langhe. Farmers were powerless to do anything except watch and pray when towering deep-blue clouds massed on the horizon on hot bright days.”
Having been to the Langhe dozens of time myself, I can tell you that this passage captures these moments extremely well.
So if you’ve been to wineries in Piemonte, or if you just want an engaging account of what life was like for the farmers of this area during this troubling time of the 20th century, do yourself a favor and purchase a copy of Angel of Alta Langa.
Available at amazon.com
Also, see Hoffman’s site: