Jules Wilson’s Piazza San Giovanni is an honest, lively account of dealing with heartbreaking illness while starting a new life with a sense of adventure.
Diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Wilson left her home of 33 years, South Africa, for better medical care in Italy. Her parents were Italian, and she still owned her paternal grandmother’s home in Cori, a town near Rome. After she and husband Dennis settle Wilson into door “Numero 8,” facing onto the Piazza San Giovanni, Dennis returned to South Africa. Meanwhile, Wilson digs in, regularly detailing her daily life and medical treatments in emails to family and friends. These form the book’s 34 chapters.
Wilson intimately details her efforts to, among others, speak Italian, outfit her home, deal with quirky doctors and nurses, and, most charming of all, become adopted by the “ladies of the Piazza,” five older women who live on the square. Irreverent, opinionated, fiercely caring, nosy, and argumentative, they commandeer all life—human, dog, and cat—on the piazza. Wilson finds herself a constant topic of their gossip and attention.
The author’s account of her nine months in Cori is at once poignant and funny, alternating between the seriousness of coping with a life-threatening disease and the humorous dramas unfolding around her, especially at the hands of the piazza ladies. Her writing is heartfelt, unembellished, and pleasurable.
Still, the book presents problems. First, Wilson doesn’t appear to have edited her emails for a book audience. Some chapters refer to photos posted on Facebook and other elements readers won’t likely understand. Also, in the Introduction, Wilson details her early background but, frustratingly, writes nothing about her South African history, a key dynamic in her story. Finally, the book’s long lines of dense text strain the eyes; a different format would make it much more enjoyable.
Nonetheless, this memoir offers many rewards and should interest Italophiles, lovers of travel narrative and readers seeking solace, humor, and inspiration in life’s bittersweet trials.
Also available as an ebook.