On the surface a young professional couple, Sarah and Luke craved a different, more self-sufficient life. They traded the comfort of a two-bedroom English cottage for a derelict house in northwest Italy. The Hazelnut Grove explores the joys and demands of daring to live in search of a dream.
Sarah and Luke's chosen life is part fairy tale, part story of courage and self-reliance as their new neighbour, nicknamed il Cattivo, the nasty one, decides to make war over the desolate hazelnut grove, a two metre strip of land behind their house. Their story is interspersed with anecdotes drawn from the author's family's holiday cottage in rural France.
As events unfold that might have driven them away, especially Sarah, who does not share Luke's Italian heritage, a picture emerges not only of how the Italian life has tested Sarah, but also of how she discovered in herself both a grand obstinacy and a respect for the materials and objects of that life. A chunk of rusting metal becomes, in Sarah's eyes, an artefact with potential. Sarah becomes an artist.
Set in Piedmont, renowned for its wine and food, a story of abundance and thriving slowly emerges against the challenges of a menacing neighbour, the deaths of beloved animals and the loneliness of getting to grips with an unfamiliar language and culture.
When asked by English friends: 'Would you ever move back home again?' Luke and Sarah can only answer: 'We are home.'
Paula Read started out as a journalist and subsequently trained as a languages teacher. She lives in London now but has also lived and worked in France, Canada (where she worked as a French/English interpreter) and the USA. The Hazelnut Grove is about the joys and woes of moving to another European country at a time when Europe signified something to be part of not a place to escape from.
She has had several short stories published and is currently working on a second non-fiction book about the fate of forced labourers from occupied France in World War II.