When Bartolomeo Scappi dies in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money and his position—to his nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a history of deception, betrayal and murder—all to protect an illicit love affair.
Let’s get into the discussion questions
- Why do you think Giovanni couldn’t bring himself to burn Bartolomeo’s journals? On the same note, do you think Bartolomeo actually expected him to burn them? What would you have done if you were Giovanni?
- We learn about Bartolomeo’s love affair with Stella and the great lengths they both went to stay together. What were some of the more surprising aspects to you about this? Why couldn’t they just go run off together and leave everything behind?
- Did you have any suspicion that Bartolomeo was actually Giovanni’s father? Why do you think he never told him the truth? How did that change their dynamic in Giovanni’s perspective or did it? In what ways are Giovanni and Bartolomeo similar and how are they different?
- Let’s talk about the reveal that Valentinio is Giovanni’s brother and Stella of Bartolomeo’s journal is actually their mother Serafina.
- Why was Cesare so resentful of Giovanni?
- Was the comet supposed to represent Bartolomeo’s spirit?
- What did you think about the romance between Isabetta and Giovanni?
- What are some of the highlights for you as far as food descriptions? What about some of the historical content (the Vatican, the popes, etc.)?
- What are some of the central themes of this novel?
- Have you been to Italy or do you want to go someday?
Here’s some more book recommendations—a story that takes place in Italy and another food-centric one.
Leading Men by Christopher Castellani is about the turbulent fifteen-year romance between the famous playwright Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo.
It’s July 1953 in Portofino, Italy. A young Truman Capote throws a party for the literary elite, drawing Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo. This is where they meet the fictional Anja Blomgren, a young Swedish actress they decide to take under their wing, which sets a motion of events that will alter all three of their lives. Leading Men is a quiet look at the man behind Williams and what it means to stand in someone’s shadow and to sacrifice your own wants. It’s also about the consequences of words left unsaid.
The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah is a family saga with plenty of depth and intrigue, all in the setting of Burgundy. The story follows the protagonist Kate as she travels to Burgundy to spend the fall at the vineyard estate that has belonged to her family for generations. She eventually discovers a hidden room containing a cot, some Resistance pamphlets, and an enormous cache of valuable wine. Her search will take her back to World War II and a relative she never knew existed, a great–half aunt who was a teenager during the Nazi occupation.
Feel free to comment below with your thoughts about The Chef’s Secret!