MAMA MIA What would you give to spend time with your mother as a young woman, before life’s obligations and turning points landed on her shoulders with a thud? In ‘One Italian Summer’, now in its fourth week on the hardcover fiction list, Rebecca Serlea immerses her protagonist in this fantasy. Circumstances are bittersweet for Katy Silver, who goes ahead with a long-planned vacation to the Amalfi Coast after Carol, her mother and intended travel companion, dies of cancer. There, in the lobby of her hotel in Positano, she encounters a 30-year-old incarnation of Carol.
Serle’s mother is very much alive; Ranjana Serle recently surprised her daughter in Rancho Santa Fe, California, at the final stop of her book tour. But “One Italian Summer” has a backstory that’s partly based on reality, Serle explained in a phone interview. “In the summer of 2019 I went with my mother to Rome and then to Positano. She had spent time there after her sophomore year of college; she had fallen in love and had this magical summer. She had always, always talked about this time.”
While traveling, the Serles tracked down Remo Pizotti, Ranjana’s long-ago Italian friend, and arranged to meet him at the Trevi Fountain. “They recognized each other right away, which was so sweet,” Serle said. “They saw each other and hugged each other and he brought my mother this charm with ‘love’ on it that she had given him almost 50 years earlier.” Using Google Translate, the trio chatted at a coffee shop that was once the bar where Ranjana and Remo first crossed paths.
Serle explained that her parents have been married for 40 years and that her father approved of this reunion, even though it took place on his birthday. As she and her mother said goodbye to Pizotti at a bus stop, Serle looked back and saw that he saw Ranjana walking away. “It was very sweet and also a little sad,” she said. “It got me thinking about the women who are our mothers before we meet them. There are times in life when you’re a writer where the moment just screams at you to pay attention. I knew I wanted to tell a mother-daughter story and it naturally formed for me.” (No spoilers, but Katy and Carol are spending time with a heartthrob named Remo.)
In another meta twist, the audio version of “One Italian Summer” is read by Lauren Graham, whose “Gilmore Girls” character Lorelai quotes Serle in her caption. The passage contains this wise motherly advice: “Go to the window, dear, for there is so much to see.”