“On Persephone’s Island” Is an Up-Close, Non-Stereotypical View of Sicily
On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal is the memoirs of Mary Taylor Simeti, an American ex-pat who mixes in Mediterranean myths with her narrative about life living in Sicily. As Simeti recounts her tale, she draws parallels to her own story and Persephone, the Goddess of Spring and the Queen of the Underworld who, along with her mother Demeter, was considered the patron of the island in Greek mythology.
Simeti informs her readers that she was born and raised in New York City, but after graduating from Radcliffe College, she visited Sicily in 1962 to do some volunteer work, and that was how the love affair first started. However, her narrative begins on her 42nd birthday in 1983. The setting flip-flops between the city of Palermo, where her little ones go to school and where her husband, Toninno, works as a professor of agricultural economy, and Bosco, which is a city located in eastern Sicily and is the site of Toninno’s ancestral family farm. Much like Persephone’s visits to and from the Underworld, Simeti finds a natural rhythm between the back-breaking work of running a farm that’s been in her husband’s family for at least three generations and the hustle and bustle of life in the city.
Although she’s an outsider, Simeti also allows her readers to get a snapshot look at what life in Sicily is really like. Gone is the stereotype of the mobster that movies such as The Godfather has brought into American consciousness. Instead, Simeti combines mundane events, a good helping of Sicilian history and customs, and fascinating insights to show what the real Sicilians are like sans the negative stereotypes.
While her writing is academic and can be quite dry at times, which can be a turn-off for some readers, Simeti’s work allows her readers, whether they be of Italian descent or not, to visit Sicily and discover the heart and soul of the land for themselves.