Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
Amanda Weinberg shares her story as she followed her dream and published her first novel at the age of 61.
A little about Amanda
I live in London with my husband and a series of dogs who join us when their owners are away. I have two grown up children who live nearby. I’m a languages teacher by profession and left teaching in the mid 80s to set up my own business, A to Z International sales with a close friend from university. I have always wanted to write and dabbled when I was younger. I wrote many short stories, two of which were nominated for prizes. Working full time for my own business in advertising sales and events for the telecoms industry, travelling around the world for work and juggling being a mother and wife, gave me little time to take writing seriously. But I could dream about the novels I would invent when I had more time.
When did you start to write?
It has taken me many years to craft, refine and perfect this book. I never stopped believing in my story or my characters, despite rejections from publishers. At the age of 61 I have learnt that perseverance, resilience and determination can bring your dream to fruition. I think there is something in the synchronicity of timing. The current climate that we live in, the difficulties caused by the pandemic and the rise of fascism in different parts of the world all resonate with the dark days of Italy during the fascist period.
When was your first book published?
The Tears of Monterini was released by RedDoor Books in August 2020 – it’s the perfect summer read so the timing is wonderful.
What was the inspiration behind your book?
In 1998 my husband and I and our two children decided to go on a trip to Italy. Our favourite destination had always been France. That year we decided to try somewhere new and my Italian neighbour had a colleague who owned a flat in the Maremma, in southern Tuscany. When we used our dial up internet to research information on the area, there was nothing. The guidebooks were equally useless. They referred to “boring southern Tuscany,” and their advice was to stay away! But it was too late. We bundled our children into the car and drove through France and central Italy to the southern Tuscan, medieval town of Pitigliano. Little did we know that we were to stumble upon a village steeped in Jewish history and culture, with its own synagogue, Jewish museum, kosher wine, boxes of matzah and colourful displays of Jewish cakes. It was the start of a journey which would transform our lives and become the inspiration for my debut novel “The Tears of Monterini”.
As we turned the bend in the road, Pitigliano rose majestically from its mound of tufo, a vision of honey-coloured houses, church spires and Etruscan caves dug into the rock. We had fallen upon a world where Catholic and Jewish culture was intertwined amidst a backdrop of Etruscan caves and pathways. We bought a house the following year in the old town in the area called La Fratta. The idea of a novel began to percolate almost immediately. I could see my characters sitting together on a geranium clad veranda, sipping wine and shielding their eyes from the harsh sunlight. I wanted to tell the history of the village during the fascist years of Mussolini. I listened to stories of the inhabitants and imagined what it was like to walk the streets when Mussolini came to power, to feel threatened yet at the same time protected by the community. I discovered what it was like to be a partisan or a Jew during Mussolini’s fascist regime.
What can you share with us about the plot – without spoiling the ending!
I felt my way through the historical events of the time and set the story in the fictional village of Monterini. My novel explores the lives of two Italian families between 1921 and 1945. Jacobo works in the family bookshop and Angelo makes good wine by singing to his grapes. Their children Rico and Bella grow up and fall in love. The two families live side by side amidst a backdrop of village communal life, Etruscan tales and the growth of Benito Mussolini. With the declaration of the racial laws of 1938 tensions simmer between the surface. It is a story of love, friendship and betrayal, and above all, the generosity of the human spirit in a world marred by conflict and hatred.
Are there any key issues you wanted to draw attention to?
The story began to take shape and as I continued my research, I discovered many individual acts of kindness both within the village and beyond. A friend told me the tale of a villa in the region of Emilia-Romagna, which was used to house orphans form the former Yugoslavia and Germany; children of Jewish, communist and Roma parents. I researched the story and incorporated it into my fictionalised account of the events that touched my characters’ lives. I learnt how the historical events affected individuals, farmers and professionals alike. And I discovered that acts of kindness no matter how small were the fabric on which a community was built. They were the essence of humanity and became the essence of my novel. I blended these stories into a bigger whole as my fictional characters expanded.
I discovered other interesting scenarios. I was researching a short story set in Argentina during the economic crisis of the late 90s and saw a film where farmers sang to their grapes improve the quality of their wine. Then I read an account of grape singing in Northern Italy. These narratives pepper my fictional account along with the major historical events which weave around the characters and influence their lives.
What do want readers to take away having the read the book?
I hope they’ll have enjoyed reading a novel about the human condition with a romantic theme that I think will particularly resonate with women who love Italy, history and family dramas. I hope it takes the reader on a journey of love, food, history and self-discovery.