Cover Image: I Give It to You

I Give It to You

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I am always amazed when an author can write a book about WWII with a new, unique perspective. While Martin's book is not the first I've read from a Tuscan perspective (I read Iris Origo's <I>War in Val D'Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944</I>), I found her main character's almost accidental decision to let her setting—the beautiful Villa Chiara and lands around it—drive her story to be compelling. This is, of course, much more than a wartime narrative, and we see the friendship between academic colleagues Beatrice and Jan grow and change, providing the story's emotional heft and most captivating moments.
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When Jan visits Tuscany, she meets the landlady, Beatrice, of her villa and becomes intrigued with her and her story.  During the subsequent years, they maintain a friendship.  Jan decides that Beatrice's story must be told.  When she decides that she must write a novel about Beatrice, Jan realizes that Beatrice's beloved villa is at risk.  Will she help or hurt her friend with the novel?
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I Give It to Zulu is an awesome read about World War II, Italian politics and family dynamics.  It transports you right to beautiful Italy,  and it’s  an amazing examination of friendship. I loved it! I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend it.
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A family saga set in the hills of Tuscany.  Old money, Italian elegance, style, and gracious hospitality all disguise the turmoil of familial relationships.  Jealousy, animosity, perceived slights and favoritism can be found among all families with some much more dangerous than others, especially when they are compounded by secrets.  Families do not seem to be very tolerant of differences within, so how can they every tolerate anyone outside their ranks?
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It takes a while to get into the story and what is taking place. I found it hard to imagine such a disconnect between the main characters that even though they were at the same university never saw each other except at one to five year intervals. Yet the Italian lady tells all her life story, but there is none from the writer to whom she is conversing. It gets bogged down in some of the family history and it took awhile to muddle through to a completely unsatisfying ending. Others have written more details of the storyline so I am not going to repeat others reviews or the cover. I found some of the history interesting as you don't hear much about Italy during WWII in historical fiction. A lot of research must have gone into the book but the story falls short and creates more confusion of the authors intent.
I was providing an advanced reader copy of this book and was under  no obligation to provide a review. The opinions expressed are my own.
Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read this book.
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Thank you Netgalley for introducing me to this author, who I've never heard of before. This was a fascinating character study although the story moved a bit too slowly for me. I love historical fiction though, and I liked the multi-generational aspect of this story. The characters felt so real that sometimes this felt like a true story instead of fiction. I wouldn't say I loved this novel but it was overall an interesting read.
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This was a little different type of book.  The narrator, Jan, is not really a major character in the book.  She is relating other characters’ stories.  The author does a great job with this historical fiction.  Her descriptions of Italy and the area around the villa made me feel that I was sitting there and experiencing the environment in person.  I could smell the food even as I turned the pages of the book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Nan A. Talese for my advanced review copy.  All opinions and thoughts are my own.
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The setting of the story, a villa in the Tuscan countryside, sounded delightful as well as the stories told about the family that have stayed there by one of the family member to a visiting writer made for an interesting read. The only downside was the disconnect between some of the characters. It's still a good read if you're looking for a book set in Italy with a little history of WW2. Thank you, NetGalley, and the publisher for the ARC.
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Who Owns Your Stories?

Jan is a professor at at small college in Pennsylvania. She writes historical fiction and because of her fascination with Mussolini she rents a small apartment in a villa in Tuscany for the summer. Here she meets Beatrice, also a professor at at college in the US. Her family has ties to the villa for generations and she spends her summers there. 

Beatrice and Jan meet, discover interests in common, and spend time with each other sipping wine as Beatrice talks of her fascinating family history. Jan is enraptured by the stories and says how much she would like to write them. At one point, Beatrice says, I give it to you. 

The women stay in contact. Jan makes more visits to the villa. Then when Beatrice is nearing eighty, Jan decides it’s time to write the book. The question is whether Beatrice still wants to share her family history.

This is a leisurely book with lots of fascinating stories and descriptions of sights in Tuscany. It was like having a delightful holiday. The author does and excellent job of bringing the area to life. The story of Beatrice’s family is not told chronologically when makes it somewhat confusing, but he stories are so interesting it doesn’t matter. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was saved from being a travelogue by the interesting question of who owns your stories. 

I received this book from Doubleday Books for this review.
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Is it too bland to say, this is a lovely book to read? It’s true, the setting the interesting Jan, the American academic, who comes to spend the summer at the Villa Chiara, the glamorous owner, Beatrice Salviati, who tells the stories of the Villa as their friendship grows. The story takes place during a 10-year period. There is the general drama going on around Jan, but she is so caught up her own musings she misses a lot of that. Add in a traitor and a murder and I ended up reading a story I wished would not end.
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Who else is dreaming of traveling to Italy? I Give It to You is a most appropriately titled book for a virtual vacation. Even better for escapism, Valerie Martin's new novel is set in the past: the 1980s and World War II Tuscany. Like in her classic Property, Martin offers us an unreliable narrator, but this one is a novelist instead of a slave owner. The protagonist is both guest and parasite.

I Give it to You is a writer's novel that questions the boundary between author and subject. Is the story there to be plucked like a fruit or are there limits, especially when fictionalizing personal history? The protagonist, Jan, is a midlist author has been offered the dream fellowship to research a novel in Italy. She has rented the sunny limonaia at an old estate in rural Tuscany. The architecture is as well rendered as the characters: 

"Parallel to the gate, the charming limonaia stands with its back to the wall. Glass and verdigris copper doors glint beneath the shelter of the rafters, which extend over a small stone terrace. Artfully placed hip-high pots of rosemary and lemon trees create a cool and semiprivate sitting area."

From her sunny patio, Jan observes the aristocratic family in the main villa. The glamorous Beatrice shows her around the countryside, and as a friendship develops between the two middle aged professors, Beatrice shares the story of her family's struggles under Mussolini. Oddly enough, we learn nothing about Jan's past or family. This narrative approach succeeded in creating plot tension and mystery, but at the expense of the protagonist, who was the least developed and most unlikable character. Jan is prone to prejudices against psychiatry and offensive ethnic stereotypes. She judges others with impunity but is defensive when they judge her in turn.

The old villa is both a stage for family drama and a metaphor for decay of the aristocracy. As a reader, we grow to love Villa Chiara as much as Beatrice does. Even its rustic failings like bad plumbing become plot points to increase tension amongst the extended family. The chapters alternate between the 1980s and flashback chapters to Beatrice's childhood during the War and afterwards as a graduate student in Massachusetts. Sometimes the past and present chapters overlap so that the narrative becomes a bit repetitive. What brings the story to life are all the well-developed secondary characters who have hidden motives and agendas of their own.

I Give it To You was released in the USA today (8/4/20). I'd recommend it to anyone who craves a vacation in Italy and to writers who enjoy a well-crafted book. I wonder if our current pandemic will divide history as much as World War II did. Will there be a new genre of post-pandemic literature since the world has fundamentally changed?
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With one caveat, I loved this novel.

Jan is an American professor/writer; Beatrice an Italian, educated and working in America, who spends her summers at the family villa in Tuscany.  Introduced by a mutual friend, Jan, is invited to visit the villa where Beatrice reveals the background history of her aristocratic family, spanning the war years until the present. Over the years,  Beatrice shares these stories and says of each “do you like it?….I give it to you”.  

This book is a combination travelogue, family saga, and conundrum…who owns the stories of one’s friends and are they fair game for an author? Or is writing about them a betrayal?

The family’s history and surrounding Italian politics is fascinating in and of itself and many of the pleasures of a trip to Tuscany are here…the enticing landscape, the golden sun,  vin santo and biscotti, fresh cornettos, a glass of wine, the rich espresso that only a caffettiera can make.  While it is a fast read, I tried to slow it down, luxuriating in living that life.

All that said, I was disappointed in the ending….While it raises an interesting question, I felt it was rushed and left things unresolved. I think I could have enjoyed this book just as a travelogue and family saga without the unsettling and unsettled endings
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Another novel about WWII but customers can't get enough of it. A young American woman researching Mussolini is renting a room in a Tuscan villa and is befriending the villa's owner.
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This was an engaging, if a little slow story and I think it will appeal to fans of historical fiction. The writing was good and the characters interesting, though the plot didn't feel terribly original.
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I Give It to You (August 2020)
By Valerie Martin
Penguin Random House, 304 pages.

Valerie Martin is among my favorite novelists, but I must give a mixed review to her upcoming I Give It to You. There is much to like about any novel set partly in Tuscany, and Martin has a gift for storytelling, though this time plot lines and plot holes too often overlap. Martin also leaves herself open to charges of class insensitivity. 

The novel opens in 1983, when Jan Vidor, an English professor at a Pennsylvania college, books a vacation stay on the grounds of a Tuscan country house. Her plan is to work on a new novel, but that scheme veers in different directions when she arrives at Villa Chiara (“bright villa”). The grounds bespeak wealth, but of a faded variety that starkly contrast with Jan’s light and airy quarters in a converted out-building. Days pass before she meets her hostess, Beatrice Bartolo Doyle, whose family owns the villa. Beatrice (Bee-ah-traay-chee) is an Italian professor at a small college and lives part of the year in New York State, which she dislikes. (She doesn’t seem to like teaching much either.) Jan’s fascination for Tuscany dovetails with Beatrice’s devotion to her native soil and forms the basis for a long friendship.  

I Give It to You is a multi-generational chronicle of the slow decline of the aristocratic Salviati/Bartolo family. Jan infers that the Mussolini years (1922-45) somehow diminished family fortunes, but surviving family members are silent or vague about what happened, which side they were on, and why Beatrice’s gentle uncle Sandro was killed during the waning days of World War II. This is odd, as Beatrice shares intimate details of being a graduate student in Boston and of her brief marriage to an Irish American man whose surname she and her son bear. Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “Tell the truth but tell it slant.” Tell it slant around a writer and she will try to straighten it, even if it takes years. Martin asks us to consider a writer’s craft. Should stories and biographies–told and untold–be used as raw material for one’s own yarn? 

Jan is the book’s narrator, though mostly a passive and non-judgmental one. It is unclear whether she is also an unreliable one. That’s fine, as a major strength of I Give It to You is the ambiguous questions it poses. When someone answers a novelist’s query with a family story and says, “I give it to you,” does she merely mean she is recounting a tale, or is she giving permission for the novelist to do with it as she wishes? Does the dialogue we read–the chapters skip between real time and the past–represent Beatrice’s actual words and stories, or are they sections of the book Jan ultimately writes? 

In my estimation Martin misses the boat by making Jan an underdeveloped character. We know little of who she is other than a curious observer. How can she not be appalled by the aristocratic haughtiness of Beatrice and her cousin Luca? This is especially evident in their expectations that those living on the estate should be forever deferential, and their expressed outrage when commoners show distressing signs of raising their own status. Along similar lines, how can Jan not make more of the fact that David, Beatrice’s adult son, is a pompous ass who has inherited his mother’s sense of privilege? Readers are free to choose whether Jan is clueless, starstruck by nobility, living vicariously through Beatrice, or as heartless as her erstwhile friend. 

Novelists, like poets, are often introverts but they tend to reflect upon the human condition. If Martin would have us see Jan as both inquisitive and a relentless researcher, how can she be so obtuse? There is a logical disconnect in the small questions Jan asks in the name of uncovering the past, whilst ignoring big (and obvious) ones about the present. How can social class never come up in discussion? How is it that Jan never considers whether her friendship with Beatrice is deeper than the bottom of a wine glass? She doesn’t, thus the novel’s final lines ring hollow and false. 

I Give It to You has been billed as a novel about “writing, friendship, family and betrayal.” Be forewarned that “writing” is the only uncloaked part of this equation, and even it raises more questions than it answers. One senses that Martin has too many devices in the fire, not the least of which is that Americans in Tuscany have gotten generous workouts in literature¬. Martin herself has previously trod upon Tuscan turf in Italian Fever (1999). Despite being a different kind of book, the latter also involves a villa with secrets, the intoxicating effects of Italy, and a buttoned-down American writer. There is also the matter of a trans-Atlantic novel–parts take place in Boston, Cape Cod, New York State, and Pennsylvania–that strain for vitality outside of Italy. Likewise, the relationship between Beatrice and Jan seems only to bloom under a Tuscan sun. 

I Give It to You has fascinating diversions, especially for those lucky enough to have visited Tuscany. These are, however, exactly that: diversions. It’s not a bad novel–Martin is too talented to write rubbish–and it bears saying that it holds one’s attention. Nonetheless, I Give It to You is a case in which the whole is less than the sum of its parts. 

Rob Weir
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Jan is an aspiring writer and through a friend rents an apartment in a Tuscan villa for the summer. The owner of the villa is Beatrice who also works as a professor in the states and comes home for the summer. Jan and Beatrice become friends and Beatrice tells Jan a bit of her family history. After telling her particularly outrageous things that had happened she would ask Jan if she liked it and "I give it to you." I didn't feel the close relationship between Jan and Beatrice. When she was not in the Villa she would receive occasional post cards from Beatrice and they would get together every few years. They discussed family issues but nothing seemed particularly personal and I felt like Jan thought more of the friendship than Beatrice did.

Beatrice was a fascinating woman. She went to Boston College against the wishes of her parents who felt she should stay in Firenze and make a good marriage. She subsequently marries a man from Cape Cod and has a son. After her divorce she raises her son while she teaches and travels the world. The story is essentially a family saga told sometimes in the third person and sometimes as Beatrice's recollection. It wasn't exactly written chronologically and that was a bit off putting.

Near the end of the book when Beatrice is now close to 80 Jan finds the notes she took in Italy and decides to write a book based on the stories Beatrice told her. The question is did she have the right to do that?

Going to Italy is something that is on my bucket list and the descriptions of the area around the Villa were wonderful. I could feel the warmth of the sun, the smell of the flowers and imagined myself sitting on the terrace with my espresso in the morning. The writing was wonderful and I would recommend this to others.
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Jan Vidor is an American college professor vacationing in Italy for the summer of 1983.  Tuscany, actually.  At the recommendation of a friend, she has decided to stay at Villa Chiara.  Jan is in Italy for the peaceful and quiet beauty, but she also intends to make some substantial  progress on a memoir/biography of Mussolini.  

Beatrice Salviati Bartolo Doyle, the owner Villa Chiara, is a professor of Italian at a small college in upstate New York.  The two women immediately hit it off, and are soon sharing breakfast, excursions, and stories.  Beatrice [she pronounces it Bay-ah-trree-chay] is a colorful character, her family is colorful, and there are many colorful stories.  

Jan says, "Wow!  That's quite a story."  "Do you like it?" asked Beatrice.  "I give it to you."  

Throughout the summer, Jan becomes more and more closely acquainted with the Salviati family.  She has the kind of summer we all dream of.  And the bonds of  friendship strengthen through postcards and email during the cold winter months.   Their friendship endures through months, and summers, and years.  It's the kind of friendship we all dream of.   In the end, Jan's book is about the Salviati family.

I loved it!  Similar to but better than Under the Tuscan Sun

I read this EARC courtesy of Doubleday Books and NetGalley.  pub date 08/04/20
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Italy and USA - Past and Present

Jan is an author of historical fiction and a professor at a small college in Pennsylvania. Her fascination with Mussolini prompts a summer trip to Tuscany where she rents a small apartment at Villa Chiara, owned for many generations by the Salviati family. Upon her arrival, Jan is, at first, turned away by one of the family members before being rescued by one of the tenants on the property who is aware of her imminent arrival. The woman who owns the bulk of the villa, Beatrice Salviati Bartolo Doyle, arrives a week later, and she and Jan begin what will become a long friendship.

Beatrice is also a professor at a college, and had been, at one time, wed to an Irish-American from Cape Cod. Their volatile relationship resulted in one son who is now an adult, married to a German, and living in Berlin. Since then, Beatrice has spent her winters at her home near her college in New York, and her summers at Villa Chiara. Her independent lifestyle does not fit with her son's. She and Jan spend many an hour sipping wine and discussing Beatrice's family's lives. When Beatrice tells her that one of her uncles was shot and killed in the driveway of the villa near the end of World War Two, Jan grows more curious. Beatrice laughs at Jan's interest, but her comment "I give to you" gives Jan the impetus to do more research, with the thought of writing a novel.

The Salviati family was run by second oldest son Marco after he managed to "dispose" of his older brother Sandro, a kind, gentle young man who made the mistake of falling in love with a grocer's daughter. There was no way the Salviatis would allow such a union, and suddenly Sandro found himself in an asylum. For many years his sisters hoped to rescue him, but Marco's iron hand, and then his support of Mussolini prevented them from retrieving Sandro. 

Meanwhile, the independent Beatrice decided that she wanted to pursue her education in America. She had never gotten along with her mother, so this decision made their relationship worse, and her marriage to Patrick Doyle further infuriated the elder Salviati. This strained connection between mother and daughter continued for the rest of their lives. 

Jan visits Villa Chiara several more times over the years, always keeping her eyes and ears open, and working on other novels in the meantime. If and when the time comes to write about the villa, what will Beatrice think? 

I GIVE IT TO YOU is a wide-ranging, multi-generational novel encompassing an old Italian family and their ups and downs, mostly centering around the lovely Villa Chiara. Jan's observations are of a group of people who, while wanting to maintain the family's integrity, exposes the reality that things are not always as they seem. The book jumps from one era to another as Jan discovers more about Beatrice and the Salvietis. Be sure to read the Epilogue! 

A thoroughly engrossing novel, don't miss I GIVE IT TO YOU.
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This book is wonderful. If i have a complaint, it was that it was too short. Beatrice is one of the strongest characters I have encountered recently. The view of Italian history and the way it was reflected in the life of the family was the core of the book. A truly memorable novel.
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I was not sure that I would like this book, but I am glad that I kept up with it.  Two strong women's friendships, life in Italy and how this all relates to a novel that one has written.  I have read other books by this author and this has to be my favorite so far.. I strongly recommend this book.
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