Red Sauce America - Food, Culture, and Italian American Experience

History Through Travel in Mark Rotella’s Memoir Stolen Figs

By on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022 at 8:39 am | 1,167 views

Mark Rotella's Memoir Stolen Figs

Mark Rotella’s memoir is not entirely focused on food, but it does speak to the Italian American immigrant experience.

In the book, Rotella chronicles his pursuit of his family’s origins in Calabria. Like many Italian American immigrants, his ancestors left behind a rural life where food was scarce and opportunities limited. Coming to America offered better opportunities.

Rotella returns to the region with his father and meets up with cousins who help him track down many of the other people related to him that remained behind. On subsequent trips, he travels through the hill towns of southern Italy finding his relations, eating delicious foods, and exploring what it means to be a generation removed from immigrating.

One fascinating tidbit I picked up from the book was that many Italians misspelled their names intentionally on documents in America because of an inherent fear of being tracked. Since Italian citizenship can pass through the male line only if their ancestor remained a citizen of Italy, the misspellings on the documents are a loophole to help pass citizenship on in the modern era.

Rotella also ends up making a bottle of limoncello with one of his distant relatives, allowing the drink to age while he tours around the country looking for answers. Overall, the book glamorizes (mostly) the idea of traveling around rural Italy. It was fun to read, and left me wishing I was a travel writer with a budget for long stays in Italy.


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Stolen Figs: And Other Adventures in Calabria
By Mark Rotella