Last week, one of the dictionary.com Words of the Day was rhapsodize, a verb meaning "to talk with extravagant enthusiasm." I had just finished my latest summer read and was looking for a new book on one of our many bookshelves when I saw the title Tomato Rhapsody, a debut novel from Adam Schell. Perhaps I was drawn to it because of the Word of the Day. Or, perhaps because it's August, peak tomato-eating time, a few days after we attended our Slow Food chapter's Tomato Fest, and a week after watching a rerun of Iron Chef featuring a tomato battle, tomatoes are calling me. Whatever the reason, I grabbed the book from the shelf and took a seat on my porch swing to delve into the pages.
I was happily surprised as I began the book and realized it purports to be the "almost-true" tale of how the tomato made its way from Columbus's New World to Italy. The author unfurls his story through a bawdy cast of characters in such a way that the reader feels for each and every one. These villagers, at first fearful of what they perceive as Eve's forbidden fruit, slowly but surely fall in love with the "love apple."
Yet this is not the only love story in the book. The book tells the story of the forbidden love between a Hebrew tomato farmer, Davido and a Catholic olive farmer, Mari. It tells of the paternal love between Davido and his grandfather, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany and his odd young son. It tells of the pastoral love between the good priest and the villagers. But most of all, it tells of the love these people share for food, tradition and each other.
As the Tuscan villagers work, play, laugh and cry, the reader gains insight into their daily customs. They are rimatori, peasants who speak in rhyme, and thus the book is full of wordplay. They are Catholics with strict moral laws and interesting religious festivals. Most of all, they are Italians whose love for good food almost trumps all else.
Near the beginning of the book, the novel's protagonist rhapsodizes, "His eyes could not help but mist with tears - the tomatoes were that beautiful. His first true crop: lush, round, slightly ribbed, a shade of red unmatched in all of nature, with a melding of yellow as the fruit bent and crinkled toward its green stem." As summer winds to a close and people everywhere harvest their own tomato crops, I submit that now is the perfect time to enjoy this book, a inspiring testament to summer's favorite fruit.