Patricia Volonakis Davis
Harlot's Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece
First published in: 2008
This edition: Harper Davis, 2009
Cover photography by Ross Pelton; design by Amberfiresanity
Harlot's Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss and Greece – that's a title with a lot of promise. It sounds so warm, like this book would be a comfort but strikingly realistic and true all the same. A book that is completely human.
And the moment I started this book, I knew I would love it. Patricia's pleasant voice is full of goodhearted humor, instantly sweeping you off your feet, carrying you into her story. As a reader I would say Patricia's strength is her voice and how likable it is. I became invested in her story from the get go because of this.
When Italian-American Patricia meets beautiful Greek Gregori, love is in the air, their wedding impending. Patricia's Sicilian dad doesn't like it one bit, and does his best to sabotage their upcoming nuptials. But where her father is stubborn in his ways, so is Patricia – the more her father tries to stop the wedding from happening, the more determined Patricia is to move forward with it, even though there's a part of herself that senses that maybe, just maybe, this isn't the path for her.
We (readers) see it happen, and we're kinda torn about the situation: we want Patricia to be happy, but foresee trouble for her. Eventually we decide to just brace ourselves for what's to come.
Several years into their marriage, one son born in the meantime, the couple isn't doing too well. Instead of taking responsibility for his own actions, Gregori selfishly blames his misery on being in the States. Knowing Gregori wants to live in Greece and wanting to give their marriage another chance, Patricia decides to go to Greece with him. And now Patricia's story is really only just beginning. What becomes a journey to save her marriage becomes instead a journey to find herself.
This authentic memoir isn't just about a marriage coming undone. It also isn't just another My Big Fat Greek Wedding. There is more to this.
What should be noted is that Harlot's Sauce is a clever first-hand observation of what it's like to be first-generation American. Sure, watch enough movies set in New York and you get a relatively good idea about cultural differences. But Patricia explains it in a way that makes it relatable, even if you're not a 'Something-Hyphen-American', but born and raised in North-Western Europe, like myself. I understood what she meant. I couldn't relate, being from another place altogether, yet I could. She allows her readers to put themselves in her shoes in every way.
Not only does she talk about being a 'Something-Hyphen-American'; she also shares what it's like to have Sicilian parents who love the USA, while being married to a Greek who hates America. Take your parents and husband to a soccer match (NYC against Greece) and just wait for all the bombs to burst. Then there's the Italian versus the Greek grandmother. The catholic church versus the Greek-Orthodox church.
That's a lot of cultural (e.g. sensitive!) material to handle, and Patricia does it with decency and wit.
I learned one lesson anyway: I will never again assume that all Italians love cheese. As a Dutch person, I should know better: not all Dutch people love cheese, either… even though we're referred to as cheeseheads, much like people from Wisconsin. (See? Relatable.)
Patricia handles everything with grace and humor. Gregori isn't the nicest of men, putting his Greek family before Patricia all the time. Not to mention the mother-in-law; daughters-in-law will universally cringe at Patricia's Greek MIL's actions. But it's Patricia who rises above it all years later, in her writing. What a woman. She dominates the memories of their relationship (instead of letting them control her). She owns this part of her life. She embraces, tightly, her younger naive self. This is a woman who can laugh at herself. How refreshing!
I never once pitied her (sympathize, yes – pity, no) because she never pities herself as she writes. Patricia opens herself up, a lot, and she isn't afraid to do it. There are sad moments. But she doesn't sensationalize her story, there's no abundance of drama. She's not bitter, she isn't spiteful. She sounds nothing but mature to me, and that makes her someone to look up to. I imagine her children must be very proud of her.
This memoir written by one of the strongest female voices I've ever encountered in life is a book I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. It doesn't matter how old you are, where you're from, what life you've lived. This story will find a place with you.
And be sure to savor this saucy book; once you get a taste of Harlot's Sauce, it will leave you wanting a whole lot more. (I can only hope there will be seconds one day.)
R&R series © Karin E. Lips 2008-2010 (and beyond)