Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: Seven Seasons in Siena by Robert Rodi

Title: Seven Seasons in Siena: My Quixotic Quest for Acceptance Among Tuscany's Proudest People
Author:  Robert Rodi
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: June 21, 2011
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're an armchair traveler. 
  • You love the dolce vita of Italy.
  • You're a culture lover.
What's the Story?:

From "Siena seems at first glance a typical Italian city: within its venerable medieval walls the citizens sport designer clothes, wield digital phones, and prize their dazzling local cuisine. But unlike neighboring Florence, Siena is still deeply rooted in ancient traditions—chiefly the spectacular Palio, in which seventeen independent societies known as contrade vie for bragging rights in an annual bareback horse race around the central piazza.

Into this strange, closed world steps Robert Rodi. A Chicago writer with few friends in town and a shaky command of conversational Italian, he couldn’t be more out of place. Yet something about the sense of belonging radiating from the ritual-obsessed Sienese excites him, and draws him back to witness firsthand how their passionate brand of community extends beyond the Palio into the entire calendar year. Smitten, Rodi undertakes a plan to insinuate himself into this body politic, learn their ways, and win their acceptance.

Seven Seasons in Siena is the story of Rodi’s love affair with the people of Siena—and of his awkward, heartfelt, intermittently successful, occasionally disastrous attempts to become a naturalized member of the Noble Contrada of the Caterpillar. It won’t be easy. As one of the locals points out, someone who’s American, gay, and a writer is the equivalent of a triple unicorn in this corner of Tuscany. But like a jockey in the Palio outlasting the competition in the home stretch, Rodi is determined to wear down all resistance. By immersing himself in the life of the contrada over seven visits at different times of the year—working in their kitchens, competing in their athletic events, and mastering the tangled politics of their various feuds and alliances—the ultimate outsider slowly begins to find his way into the hearts of this proud and remarkable people."

My Two Cents:

Guys, I have an obsession with Italy. My husband and I traveled to Rome, Assisi and Venice (plus London) for our honeymoon in 2010. I fell in love and I am anxious to go back. After reading this book, I think I need to add Siena to my list. Robert falls in love with the Tuscan city and its people. He becomes quickly obsessed with the Palio, a bareback horse race that takes place every year between all of the vastly different neighborhoods in Siena. It's an event that no one in the town misses and I can see why. In a typically Italian fashion, there are celebrations and negotiations that take place before the race. 

You really get a good sense of the town and how important the tradition of both the neighborhoods and the Palio mean to the people of Siena. I loved it! One thing I will say is that Rodi goes to Siena several times and even though the times are divided up by chapters, it's a little hard to keep track of what was happening when throughout the book. I had to keep backtracking in order to figure out where I was.

This is a great book for those who are looking for a slice of Italian life!


  1. We went to Siena a couple of years ago, and actually all that we saw of Tuscany was just beautiful. But Siena was especially colorful because of the focus on the Palio and all the flags everywhere for the teams. I hesitate to do armchair traveling because it makes me want to go somewhere so much. Even just reading your review makes me want to go back! :--)

  2. I love books set in Italy too and this one sounds like a great book!

  3. Gah! I looove Italy! I've been to Rome, Florence and travel-mates and I meant to stop in Siena but we slept through the train stop :(

    I'd love to armchair-travel to Siena (since I can't do the real thing)! Plus, this cover has me intrigued!

  4. @rhapsodyinbooks I totally understand where you're coming from with books making you want to travel! I just torture myself with all of these armchair traveling books ;)

  5. @Anne It's one of my favorite places to read about!


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