Rotella, Mark 1967-
ROTELLA, Mark 1967-
Home—290 Fifth St., Jersey City, NJ 07302.
Publishers Weekly, New York, NY, "Forecasts" editor.
Stolen Figs: And Other Adventures in Calabria, North Point Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times.
Mark Rotella grew up in the United States, the son of an Italian-American father and a French-Canadian mother. In his first book, Stolen Figs: And Other Adventures in Calabria, he relates his experiences traveling in the Italian region of Calabria, where his paternal grandparents were born. Enlisting the help of an Italian photographer acquaintance, Rotella explores the human and physical geography of Calabria, immersing himself and the reader in the culture of southern Italy. Through a series of vignettes about his experiences, Rotella seeks to communicate a sense of what life is like for a Calabrese.
As an Italian-American researching his family's land of origin, Rotella brings a unique perspective to the account. A contributor in Kirkus Reviews observed that "as Rotella takes pains to feel a part of this land, he makes us privy to the Calabreses' charming habits: their evening possegiata, their friendliness, their suspicions, their propensity to hang out in groups—'and in Calabria especially, this hanging out is an art form.' With the eye of a writer, a son, and a historian, the author searches and finds Calabria's soul." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly also remarked on the book's positive portrayal of the region and its attention to detail: "The book is a love letter, and Rotella reinforces that feeling when he writes, 'I am a romantic. With each trip back to Calabria, I've felt myself becoming not only more Calabrese but more Italian.'"
Rotella's collection of stories synthesized personal accounts of his family with more general stories about his travels. Mark Knoblauch in a review for Booklist noted of the combination that "tales told by local Calabrese intertwine with Rotella's father's stories of growing up in Connecticut. Exhausting the chronicles of his ancestral town, Rotella sets out with the indefatiguable Giuseppe to traverse the rest of Calabria." He concluded that the author's "portrait of Calabrese life will no doubt encourage more to visit the south of Italy." Writing for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, however, Chris Welsch considered that this varied approach detracted from the book's focus: "The best travel books have a holy grail, a riddle or at least a clear-cut curiosity about something. In Stolen Figs Rotella keeps pulling back from the most obvious and intriguing targets—his family, his hosts, and his Italianness."
Many critics commended Rotella's personal approach to his subject matter, and others acknowledged his attention to a region little-known to Americans. Welsch reflected that in his attention to geography and history, "Rotella has done a service for those interested in traveling to Calabria." As Michael Pye concluded in the New York Times Book Review, "There are already bad books on the subject; this one is good, the product of persistent, gentle curiosity and persistently open eyes. Judges travel with armed guards and people are surprised when a stranger comes back intact from remote Greek-speaking villages, but there are also the feasts and joys and faith of a hardscrabble life. By the end, you're no longer startled that Sybaris, the indulgent city of the Sybarites, once lay in Calabria."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 2003, Mark Knoblauch, review of Stolen Figs: And Other Adventures in Calabria, p. 1858.
Economist, September 6, 2003, review of Stolen Figs, p. 76.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2003, review of Stolen Figs, p. 738.
Library Journal, June 1, 2003, Rebecca Miller, review of Stolen Figs, p. 152.
Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2003, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Stolen Figs, p. R15.
New York Times Book Review, June 1, 2003, Michael Pye, review of Stolen Figs.
Publishers Weekly, January 27, 2003, "Give 'Em the Boot," p. 150; May 5, 2003, review of Stolen Figs, pp. 206-207.
Decatur Daily Online,http://www.decaturdaily.com/ (November 4, 2003), Jane Davis, "An Italian-American Finds More than Roots in Calabria."
Minneapolis Star Tribune Online,http://www.startribune.com/ (March 28, 2004), Chris Welsch, July 13, 2003, review of Stolen Figs.*