Interview with Lisa McGuinness, author of Catarina’s Ring
21 Dec 2015
Born at the end of the Nineteenth Century and nestled in South Western Italy, Catarina Pensbene’s life in Perdifumo is full of sun-drenched olive orchards, lush grape vines, delicious peasant food, family and love. But with impending war threatening to take all of the local boys to the battlefield, and her unexpected plunge into an untenable situation, Catarina’s prospects for marriage are bleak. When a letter arrives from an old family friend who has settled in San Francisco asking for her hand in marriage, Catarina decides to take a huge risk and becomes a mail order bride and sets out across the ocean. After a few whirlwind days in Manhattan, the couple travels across America by train, and soon thereafter gets married and settles in with Franco’s family in San Francisco.
Interwoven with Catarina’s, is the story is of her witty and self-deprecating granddaughter, Juliette Brice. Born and raised in Northern California, Juliette experiences an unfortunate tragedy that serves as the impetus for her to shake up her life, and travel to her grandmother’s homeland, where she enrolls in a six-month cooking class in Lucca, Italy. While abroad, Julliette becomes romantically involved with a handsome Italian man, yet her own destiny dictates she is to return to California once her class ends.
I would say the underlying theme of the book is that in life there’s never only one route to take to get where you want to go. If you hit the road-blocks of life, there are other ways to achieve the goals you have.
What fictional literary world would you most like to visit?
That’s a great question! And a hard one. I love reading about cultures and times that are different than the one I inhabit. If I could be a background character added to any novel, it would be to Memoires of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. Japan pre and during World War II was a fascinating time and place, and the circumstance of the main character were completely foreign to anything I’ve experienced. Not to mention the author’s incredible writing.
What’s rocking your world this month?
Well, of course, like most of the world, I’m focused on the horrifying terrorist attacks in Paris (and the situation in the world in general) and thinking about how/what we can do as a humanity to make the world a happier, safer place to be. I wish I knew the answer, but I do love the response of the Parisians. Live! Go out! Go to the movies, and cafés and, of course…book stores. Love each other and focus on that instead of hate. (Sorry to be so heavy!)
If you had to pick one place to vacation for the rest of your life, where would you choose?
I would have to say Italy, because not only is it gorgeous, filled with sunlight, lovely people, incredible history and scenery (not to mention amazing food) but it also allows easy access by train to France, which is another of my favorite destinations. And from there, of course, London is just a Chunnel away…
Who was your childhood hero?
Jane Goodall was definitely my childhood hero. Jacques Cousteau was a close second. I couldn’t get enough of Wild Kingdom and any stories about animals. But her work with the chimpanzees truly fascinated me. And she was so brave! And had a cool British accent, which added to the mystique! She was a seriously badass woman in her day. She was an inspiration!
If you were a teacher, what book would you assign to your class?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Not only is the writing amazing, the subject matter is important and, although difficult, it’s handled with compassion and even humor at times.
What’s your favorite quote or scene from Catarina’s Ring?
Two stand out to me. The first is a serious moment that was significant to me in the moment and the other was lighter, so I’ll share both.
The first was the scene when Catarina has to say goodbye to her mother—knowing that she may never see her again. My own mom, who was incredibly close to my heart, had died recently and while I was writing the scene the tears were streaming down my face, because the pain Catarina and Celestina were feeling was so real to me. One of the things that’s so horrible about life is that it is relentlessly moving forward whether we want it to or not. Our kids grow up and leave, our parents die, we grow old and all we can do is make sure we are living a loving, full, giving life while we’re here.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
I do. It sounds very “Pollyanna” but think it’s important to be a positive force not only in one’s personal “world” but in the larger world, as well. In the beginning of Catarina’s Ring, Juliette mentions that Catarina always had “grace and grit” and I try to live my life that way, too. Be loving…be tenacious!
Lisa McGuinness is the author of the new book Catarina’s RingBuy The Book
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